The impact of strike action can be immense for both employers and employees, especially when strikes are drawn out and negotiations are conducted over extended periods of time. In such instances, strikes are typically lose-lose, with neither party receiving any real benefit, even if the demands of workers are met.
Organisations feel the pain of strike action in a diminished or completely non-existent workforce for the duration of the strike, often resulting in the loss of customers when there is a significant drop in production. Workers feel the impact of strike action in other ways such as loss of income which, in some cases, can exceed the amounts that they gain in wage increases – a common reason to strike.
Businesses need to adopt a strategy to mitigate losses, maintain productivity, uphold reputations and wherever possible, retain mutually beneficial employer-employee relationships in the event of a strike.
Strikes – the good, the bad and the ugly
Strikes take place for a number of reasons, and these reasons are not always invalid, according to Sean Momberg, MD of Workforce Staffing Solutions. He explains that there is a common misconception with the general public that strikes take place in order to create disturbance or inconvenience, or as a result of unfair demands for more money. Although there are cases where demands are unreasonable, strikes can ensure that employees receive fair rights and employers do not take advantage, especially in the use of unskilled or semi-skilled labour.
“Workers typically strike due to a demand for increased wages or better working conditions. This is usually in conjunction with the relevant union for the specific industry. There are no specific ‘peak times’ for strikes, although increased strike action is usually noted around annual contract renewal periods and bonus time,” says Momberg. “Regardless of the reasons for a strike, they can be debilitating for businesses.”
There are two types of strikes, protected strikes which are sanctioned by the law, and unprotected strikes which are not. The latter does not have the backing of the law and may result in the strikers’ dismissal from employment for participating in an unprotected strike, depending on the circumstances.
According to Joanette Nagel, Head: Commercial and Labour at Hunts Attorneys, for a strike to be deemed protected, there are certain requirements, regulated by law, which need to be met.
Says Nagel, “According to law, a protected strike has to comply with the following requirements: the reason needs to be something of mutual interest for both employee and employer, the matter has to be referred to the CCMA and the CCMA has to issue a certificate that the matter remains unresolved, or a period of 30 days, or the extension thereof as agreed between the parties have lapsed after the referral to the CCMA, there needs to be at least 48 hours’ notice given of the intent to strike, whether or not unions are involved.”
Nagel adds that, in the case of protected strikes, employees still forfeit their wages for the duration of the strike, however their positions are not in jeopardy and their employers are obligated to allow them to return to work once the strike is over.
Don’t strike out
Companies are able to prepare for strike action and can take necessary steps to ensure their business is protected against losses and damage, however they need to have a sound Industrial Relations policy and manager who fully understands the processes and parameters for both protected and unprotected strikes.
“Strikes are intimidating for any business, which is why they can be so successful,” says Momberg. “However, businesses are able to implement temporary measures to protect themselves, such as leveraging the assistance of a Temporary Employment Service (TES) agency which has the resources to quickly mobilise large workforces in a short space of time.”
Nagel agrees, saying that while many businesses opt for shutting down operations as a precaution against strike associated violence and intimidation, this is not necessarily the best option. “Businesses have legal recourse to discipline any employee who damages property or engages in intimidation tactics while striking. Furthermore, employees who are violent, abusive or cause damage during a strike may face additional criminal charges for their actions. The risk of losing business and productivity far outweighs the risk of strikes becoming dangerous. A replacement labour force ensures that doors remain open, and business can continue as usual, especially when the TES has a reputation for meeting any employment requirement.”
Momberg points out that organisations can avoid getting involved with strikes altogether, with the right TES partner.
“Reputable TES’ understand strikes and have the right resources in place to not only assist and advise organisations who are subjected to strike action, but also to help businesses avoid them altogether. Outsourcing the HR division and the bulk of a business’s labour requirements means that the responsibility for handling a strike does not lie with the business, but with its TES,” says Momberg.
TES’ typically retain the skills of in-house IR and HR specialists, as well as legal counsel with a specific focus on labour laws, thus owning the ability to both manage the entire HR function for any organisation in any sector, but also the ability to manage strikes – and ensure business continuity – in the event that they occur.
“As a TES company we have an open and transparent relationships in place with various trade unions as well as the legal entities. We are able to manage the staffing process from start to finish, including employee engagement, grievance handling, and matching the right people to the right positions, so that employees are happy and rarely find reason to strike. Organisations who outsource their staffing component, either in its entirety or when strikes arise, will find that strikes do not strike out their businesses,” concludes Momberg.