Time is money
It is hard to put a price on time, but we all know that time is money. Given the propensity of workers to strike in this country, it is interesting to look at the results as measured by the Central Bank annual report.
The report says that although the number of strikes and man-days lost increased moderately in 2011, these numbers were significantly lower than those experienced before 2009. The number of strikes and man-days lost in the private sector increased during 2011 compared to the previous year.
Accordingly, the number of strikes in the private sector increased to 27 in 2011 compared to 15 reported during 2010, while total man-days lost increased to 39,186 in 2011 compared to 25,071 in the previous year (an increase of 56 per cent).
Similarly, the number of workers involved in the strikes also increased to 11,039 from 5,108 in 2010 (an increase of 116 per cent). The increase in the total number of strikes was mainly due to the increase in industrial disputes in the plantation sector.
While it must be acknowledged that unions in the plantation sector are strongly politicised and therefore not only used to fight for worker rights, the sheer numbers are worrying. It would be interesting to see whether this is a result of failed policies or if deteriorating living standards in this sector are fuelling unrest. Since reality tends to be complicated, it is likely that these reasons, and more, are behind the increase in strikes.
The loss of bargaining strength of trade unions may be one reason for this increase since more and more sectors are moving into employee councils, particularly in the garment sector. This leaves the trade unions more in the public domain, with their frequent threat of strike action provoking dull responses from the public.
However, the increase in strike action also results in less productivity and while the private sector has to work harder at dispute management and engagement with workers, it would be interesting to see how many man-days have been lost by the public sector. This was not mentioned by the Central Bank.
The Central Bank also went on to recommend improving the regulatory framework and promoting social dialogue. Labour relations were considered important to strike a balance between the flexibility and security of the labour market, the report points out, adding that as the issues relating to labour and employment are said to be complex and extensive, initiatives were taken in 2011 to reconsider existing legal provisions in this regard.
Accordingly, the Industrial Disputes (Amendment) Act, No. 39 of 2011, was introduced on 6 October 2011 in order to meet modern-day requirements. The maximum penalty for unfair labour practices was increased by the said amendment to serve as a sufficient deterrent. Nonetheless, there are still many organisations that do not follow these regulations and implementation mechanisms need to be strengthened.
Payment of Employee Provident Fund (EPF) and Employee Trust Fund (ETF) still remains a challenge and brining offending companies to book is also an important part of ensuring that workers are treated fairly.
It can only be hoped that economic circumstances do not provoke more strikes in 2012 and companies find a more efficient way to engage with workers.