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SA’s labour-employer relations officially “the worst in the world”

  • Written by Gawie Cillié
  • Published in Articles

SA’s labour-employer relations officially “the worst in the world”

 

 
labour relations

Image Credits: AFP

According to the Global Competitiveness Report of 2017-2018, South Africa has the worst labour-employer relations in the world — and this won't change unless the levels of trust between employers and employees in the country improve drastically.

"There are many reasons for high levels of conflict in our labour-employer relationship, but by far the low levels of trust underpin the reality we are facing," said Gawie Cillié, employment relations expert and lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).

He believes if there is little or no trust, cooperation suffers and conflict escalates quickly, resulting in a damaged relationship costing money and employee efficiency.

If trust is high, reliance on the rules becomes less necessary. Employees tend to be more self-motivated.

"The lower the level of trust are, the greater the need to rely on formal rules to keep employees productive and compliant. On the other hand, if trust is high, reliance on the rules becomes less necessary. Employees tend to be more self-motivated, conflicts tend to be resolved quickly, and equitable and formal rules — for example, relating to poor work performance or ill-discipline — only have to be applied as a last resort."

"However, if there is little or no trust, cooperation suffers and conflict escalates quickly, resulting in severe damage to the relationship — costing money and employee efficiency."

“The efficiency of a country’s labour market is directly linked to GDP, long-term growth, overall prosperity and competitiveness on a global scale. The unhealthy state of our labour-employee relations will have a direct impact on organisational performance which can seriously threaten our ability to create a sustainable, lucrative and productive future for the next generation.”

While the Labour Relations Act was created to “promote orderly collective bargaining, employee participation in decision-making in the workplace and the effective resolution of labour disputes”, there is little evidence of those standards being met.

“There are many reasons for high levels of conflict in our labour-employee relationship, but by far the low levels of trust underpin the realty we are facing. If there is little or no trust, cooperation suffers and the conflict escalates quickly resulting in a severe damage in the relationship costing money and employee efficiency,” Cillié says.

The lecturer goes on to explain that the lower the levels of trust are, the greater the need to rely on formal rules to keep employees productive and compliant. On the flip side, if trust is high, reliance on the rules becomes less necessary and employees tend to be more self-motivated.

Cillié believes that until employees are given the opportunity to influence decisions made and have clarity on those decisions, trust levels will not build to a suitable point.

“Management is usually so focused on the notion that knowledge is power and that they retain this power by keeping what they know to themselves. By keeping employees at arm’s length, not allowing for opportunities where their decisions or authority are challenged, deliberately leaving the rules for success and failure vague, can create ingrained patterns of behaviour that further lead to a lack in trust.”

Employers have been encouraged to take steps such as developing an organisational conflict management strategy and creating new options to manage conflict.

Cillié's top tips for companies

  • Realise the potential value of conflict;
  • Deal with conflicts as soon as they register themselves;
  • Learn how to have difficult conversations;
  • Keep employees both individually and collectively engaged and informed;
  • Develop an organisational conflict-management strategy;
  • Promote conflict literacy;
  • Measure conflict-management styles;
  • Build conflict-management skills;
  • Develop team-working approaches;
  • Create options for conflict resolution through internal grievance procedures that provide for "loop-back" to collaborative processes for resolution, such as internal mediation;
  • Embed a new conflict-management culture.

 

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