Strike Trends and What to Expect in South Africa

Strike Trends and What to Expect in South Africa

Strike Trends and What to Expect in South Africa

Article by John Botha

South Africa has seen a decline in the number of worker strikes in 2023, with 83 recorded incidents compared to 86 in 2022 and 165 in 2018, according to the Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO). However, this figure does not include multiple demonstrations that took place at universities, hospitals, and the State Information Technology Agency.

The 2023 Strike Barometer, released by CWAO, reveals that 60% of the strikes (51 incidents) were wage-related, with 41 strikes occurring in the public sector. Other common reasons for strikes included demands for permanent jobs and extended contracts (20 strikes) and trade union-related issues. Notably, only 40% of the 83 strikes were protected, with CAWO highlighting a trend of wildcat strikes surpassing protected ones.

The longest strike recorded in 2023 lasted 104 days, from July to November, between the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) and the City of Tshwane.

Looking ahead, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), with around 300,000 members, has warned of countrywide mass action against the mining sector if companies do not reverse planned mass job cuts. NUM plans to march to Sibanye Stillwater's offices in the West Rand on May 11 to protest against previous and planned mass retrenchments of mineworkers. The union also intends to apply for a Section 77 to march throughout the country against all companies retrenching their members.

In February, Sibanye Stillwater laid off 2,600 employees from its loss-making operations to ensure the sustainability of its South African PGM operations. Earlier this month, the company announced plans to cut another 4,000 jobs to restructure its gold operations and Southern Africa region services functions.

Unions, including Solidarity and Numsa, met with industry bosses for a second round of wage talks at the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council. Solidarity demands a 6% wage increase each year for three years, based on actual rates of pay, while Numsa is demanding increases of 7% in the first year and 6% for the second and third years. Basing increases on minimum rates of pay could lead to skilled and experienced employees receiving increases below the consumer price index (CPI), while entry-level employees would receive above CPI increases. Solidarity warns that this approach could exacerbate the talent drain of scarce skills in the industry.

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