Nearly half of 2012 strikes illegal

The Department of labour released its 2012 strike action report on Wednesday.

FILE: Lonmin miners take part in an illegal strike on 14 May 2013. Picture: Lesego Ngobeni/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - The Department of Labour released its 2012 Industrial Action Report on Tuesday, showing that the number strikes last year rose by around 30 percent from 2011 to the highest rate in five years.

In 2012, the mining sector was in the spotlight with miners accounting for 57.5 percent of all striking workers and several unprotected strikes which resulted in violence and a number of deaths.

Further, most workers involved in strikes last year were members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), making it the most active union in 2012.

According to the report, there were 99 strikes recorded last year alone.

Around 44 percent of them were unprotected and most of the workers involved were from the mining industry.

It says R6.6 billion in wages and 3.3 million working hours were lost due to the strike action.

A key feature of the industrial action last year was the heightened violence.

Gauteng continues to account for the largest number of work stoppages across the country.

The most violent incident occurred at Lonmin's Marikana mine in the North West, where 44 people died during the month-long strike.

The report also found that the median settlement in wage disputes was to raise wages by between 6.9 percent and 10 percent.

The department says it's working with a number of other government structures to tackle industrial violence.

"While the Department of Labour will continue to monitor and report on industrial action, it will also continue to work with the social partners to minimise un-procedural action and to counter violence associated with strike action."

Speaking to 567 CapeTalk/Talk Radio 702's Bruce Whitfield on Wednesday night, director at the Pretoria branch of International Labour Organisation Vic van Vuuren said he expected 2013's report to show even higher numbers of strikes, but less unprotected ones.

But where there are still illegal strikes, he says, laws need to be enforced.

"We need to respect the right to strike, but if there's an unprocedural strike, there have to be consequences - people need to follow the rules," he argues.

He says greater intervention on the part of government, police and other structures is needed to prevent illegal action.

Calling the overall figures "extremely disturbing", van Vuuren says there needs to be a change in the way labour disputes are handled.

"We're still using 1994 models of social collective bargaining. We need to move ahead in a more positive fashion. We can't go from year to year just having these strikes - it's not doing anyone any good."

He argues that while strikes are generally focussed on wage issues, there are a number of other social issues at play that need to be understood and dealt with.

For the department's full report click here and to hear the full interview with Vic van Vuuren, click on '...' at the top of this story.