Leadership of the Independent Media
Leaders of our Social Partners; Organised Labour, Business and Community Formations
Members of the Media
Comrades and Friends
Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you for inviting me to come and make a contribution to this important gathering of the esteemed leaders, decision makers and opinion makers of note in South Africa. I am deeply humbled by your show of confidence in me and the portfolio to which I am deployed.
Milk and honey have different colours, but they share the same house peacefully”, one of the African proverbs on peace.
So we may, as a people, have different views on issues, but we only have one South Africa and one Africa that together we must develop, defend and share peacefully.
The recent events of xenophobic attacks on our African brothers and sisters just because they are from outside of the South African borders, are a shame and embarrassing. There can be no justifiable reasons for these acts as they are way out of sync with the African values, Ubuntu.
The attacks on foreign nationals must be condemned in the strongest terms possible. The recent attacks are a threat to our historical achievements as a nation and they go against the essence and the letter of our constitution. These attacks violate all the values that South Africa embodies therefore are unacceptable and should not be tolerated by any of us.
Needless to say that this is indeed in sharp contrast with the fact that barely a month from today is the Africa Day, a Day when all Africans celebrate the vision of our fore-bearers who on 25 May 1963 founded the Organisation of African Unity, the precursor to the African Union.
To a large extent, South Africa does owe its freedom to the support of the Organisation of African Unity community, then how do you begin to explain the rationale behind these attacks? It’s absurd to say the least.
Government urges all South Africans not to allow a few individuals to reverse and undermine our historical achievements.
No amount of frustration or anger can ever justify the attacks on foreign nationals and the looting of their shops. We call on all our stakeholders business, labour and civil society to join hands with us in ensuring that these attacks come to an end. Why can’t we be like milk and honey, recognise that we may be from different countries, but the bottom line is that we are all Africans, and share what this continent has to offer in harmony?
Programme Director; Dialogue in general and social dialogue in particular is not a foreign concept in South Africa by any means, the journey of social dialogues comes a long way in this country. Some of you may recall that by the mid 1980’s formations inside the country such as the Congress of South African Trade Unions, academics and activists who were opposed to the apartheid state began to conduct research to develop policy options for a post-apartheid South Africa.
There was a dynamic interplay between the struggle for democracy and the demand for participatory democracy instead of simply, a Parliamentary democracy.
At the same time business formations such as SACCOLA also began to argue that business in South Africa had to start doing things differently if they have any hope of influencing and shaping the inevitable new order. The top employer industrialists in the country also understood the role industrial relations would play as the work place become the terrain of conflict. To pursue this new thinking, business created a Consultative Business Forum as a platform through which to engage the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) and the ANC in exile.
By the late 1980’s various initiatives were underway between the ANC economists in exile and those working internally within the MDM, old guard National Party economists and private sector economists. Some of you may also recall back in 1988, when the old government proposed new amendments to the Labour Relations Act which included things that were aimed at reversing the gains of workers achieved over many years of struggle. This was the first trigger and a real test of whether or not social dialogue had a chance in the real world to deliver sustainable solutions and a new modus operandi in the policy-making space.
Ladies and gentlemen; These proposed Amendments triggered mass action and strikes of the same, if not greater, proportion last seen in the 1973 strikes that started in Durban.
The strikes and mass action of 1988 presented an opportunity to test if Business under the umbrella of SACCOLA was genuine about their resolve to find a new way of doing things in South Africa. The bilateral meeting between the Employers and the trade union leaders resulted in what became known as the SACCOLA Accord.
The SACCOLA Accord paved the way for the very first formal tripartite meeting of the leadership of Business Formation, the leaders of the Labour movement and Representatives of the old government to engage on the proposed amendments to the LRA and a plan to restructure the National Manpower Commission as it was known then.
It is instructive to note however that in order to get a deal from the then Government, the then Minister of Labour, Leon Wessels had to be taken away on a bosberaad to persuade him of the need to review government’s position and to move away from the culture of adversarialism.
The outcome of this particular dialogue session became known as the Laboria Minute. It proved that it was possible, through true social dialogue, to reach agreement on even the most difficult of issues.
By the early 1990’s, with the release of President Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of political parties, social dialogue initiatives were emerging everywhere and in many forms and shapes at the national level. The best example was the start of the political negotiations in the form of the Conference for Democratic South Africa (CODESA).
Programme Director; it is important to recall also that KZN also used social dialogue to conclude the milestone National Peace Accord.
I am taking you down this memory lane to prove my hypothesis that dialogue in general and social dialogue in particular, is not a new concept in South Africa. The second point perhaps is to show that in most cases, social dialogue tends to work well when there is a crisis. When Nedlac was formed in 1995, it was a direct response to the crisis of trust, fear and uncertainty about the kinds of policies that the ANC government was going to pursue.
Many people wanted an institutional arrangement that will create a platform for people to influence and shape policy, and in order for this to be meaningful, they insisted that it should be set up through an act of Parliament.
For President Nelson Mandela, the launch was of towering significance and in his opening address in February 1995 he said, and I quote “Democratisation must reach beyond the narrow governmental domain and Nedlac represents the broadening and deepening of our democracy by directly engaging sectors of our society in formulating policies and in managing institutions governing their lives.”
As you know by now that the ink had barely dried on the signing of the Nedlac founding declaration, when social partners and by extension social dialogue got its first test in the form of the tabling of the Labour Relations Amendment Bill. It took social partners 10 weeks of hard work to reach key agreements on the Labour Relations Amendment Bill. The Nedlac deal on the Labour Relations Amendment Bill was a delicate balance of trade–offs and concessions.
The conclusion of the Labour Relations Amendment Bill was followed in its foot-steps by the introduction of the more difficult and complex Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill which took about 18 months to complete.
Once again another true testimony that social dialogue as a new way of doing things was capable of living up to expectations.
Social Dialogue became the new modus operandi for South Africa in times of social and economic challenges.
Through dialogue social partners were able to deliver the Presidential Jobs Summit in October of 1998. Four years later Government challenged Nedlac social partners once again to deliver a Tough Employment Accord using lessons learnt from the previous Accords such the Masakhane Campaign and the 1998 Presidential Jobs Summit Accord. Social partners acknowledged that the call for a tougher Employment Accord was a toll order, given the inherent contradictions of the social partnership which sometimes bursts into momentary conflicts and adversarialism.
The Labour leaders always complained that the social Accords were demanding too much concession from labour relative to what employers were putting in as trade-offs.
They often used the metaphor of preparing a breakfast dish and it went something like this, An English breakfast has eggs and bacon as the main ingredients and a hen simply donates eggs yet the pig must lose its life to provide bacon. They complained that in this case the demand from business was gravitating towards asking workers to sacrifice their lives in order for a true Social Accord to materialise.
Despite this discomfort, the worker leaders engaged to fashion out various accords in subsequent years.
In 2003, Dialogue delivered the watershed Growth and Development Summit Accord which in part set the scene for the South African Framework Response to the Global Economic Crisis of 2008/9.
The Framework agreement on the Electricity crisis Accord was yet another Accord that focused on a specific challenge and dialogue came out tops in all cases. Almost all the accords that were concluded during this period confirm that they were addressing specific acute challenges in a particular moment in time. Maybe it is correct then to say that in every crisis there is an opportunity and dialogue tends to work better when focussed on a specific challenge.
Ladies and Gentlemen; I am raising these issues and the journey of social dialogue to illustrate the point that without one form or the other of social dialogue, it would not have been possible to do some of these things let alone sustaining them. I am convinced that social dialogue remains one of the tried and tested means to translate the notion of “The people shall govern” into reality.
Dialogue transcends everything facet of our industrial relations world of work. It finds expression in the way we develop labour market policies, collective bargaining, dispute resolution and recently even the Labour Court attempted dialogue as a means to resolve the Platinum Strike recently. Dialogue has truly become the way of managing difference of opinions and dispute resolution in our country.
It is also true that dialogue does not happen in a vacuum, but it is informed by factors within our remit and those that get thrown at us by forces that we can’t control. It is a fact that the socio-economic landscape, not only in South Africa, but globally, as we have seen in the uprising in some countries in Europe, ferns the flames of adversarialism and one would have hoped that with the established dialogue institutional arrangements that we have, we would be able to manage any eventuality with a high degree of success.
The proliferation of organisations and interest groups that seek direct audience with the state give an impression that there are no institutions that were set up to do this kind of work and/or provide the link between the state and its people when it comes to shaping and introducing social and economic policies.
It is also intriguing that in the recent bilateral engagements between the state and social partners, very little is said about Nedlac and other social dialogue institutions as the epicentres of dialogue. Are our social dialogue institutions with such an excellent repertoire of success and finesse, overwhelmed or ill-equipped to deal with the 21st century challenges?
It will be inappropriate to jump to any of these conclusions without a thorough diagnosis of the situation as that will merely be anecdotal and not capable of being defended in the public domain.
The adversarial nature of our industrial relations environment is historical and that is important for of all of us to acknowledge. The primary aim of our labour market legislative framework was designed to create an enabling environment and tools to address this harsh reality. It is also correct that our labour laws are premised on the principle of voluntary participation. It is a fact that the Principal Labour Law has set up various institutions to assist in managing the inherent conflict in the employer-employee relationships.
The challenge of unemployment, poverty and inequality, feeds into the troubles that we have observed in the recent past. The mediocre compliance with the existing labour laws, also contributes to the militant stances that workers often take in dealing with collective bargaining processes. It seems that the Breakfast metaphor of years gone by has become a pre-condition for any possible compromise.
Programme Director: I have also observed with a degree of disappointment that in most strikes around collective bargaining issues, workers down-tool when the gap between what the employers are offering and their demand is so tiny that going on strike for weeks on end does not make social and economic sense. Imagine workers going out on strike because the employer is offering 8%, but are quite happy to come back after two weeks of strike shouting victory when the employer improves the offer by a mere .05%.
In some cases, parties end up calling on the government to assist in general and the Minister of Labour in particular. I must say that calling on government to get involved in Industrial Relations operational matters is undesirable for a simple reason that government has created institutions for this purpose. The unwarranted intervention by government carries the real danger of undermining the very institutions it created in the first place.
Programme Director; Examining the genesis of social dialogue in South Africa, its achievements to date and the challenges that face the country in the present and future, using and strengthening the existing dialogue platforms to engage on policy matters and other pressing socio economic challenges, is vital. It is also true that most of the leaders who conceptualise, concretise and formed our existing institutions are either retired or moved on to other things.
The institutional memory and the raison detrè for creating them may not have been passed on to the new generation.
Whilst our social dialogue institutions are revered not only in the African continent, but globally, they often get a flack here at home. Maybe it is typical of South Africans to be too hard to themselves without appreciating how well they are doing on many other fronts.
In April 2010 a strike at the giant Vale Inco nickel mining complex in Sudbury, Ontario, entered its tenth month, making it the longest industrial dispute in over a hundred year history of mining operations in the Sudbury Basin. The strike by 3,100 United Steelworkers (USW) Local 6500 members in Sudbury and 120 refinery workers in Port Colborne surpassed the previous record of eight months and twenty-three days set during a bitter confrontation with Canadian-owned Inco in 1978-79. Strangely this protracted strike was no headline news globally. The global media was so low key about this to a point where it is possible that some of you may be hearing about this for the first time this morning.
The Canadian Government took a stance that the institutions that were set up to deal with industrial dispute resolution needed space to do their job and government did not want to meddle in that space. Industrial dispute were considered part of the industrial relations landscape.
Without over labouring the point that sometimes we are too hard to ourselves, one foreign investor who visited South Africa recently was addressing a business conference in Mexico and he had this to say, and I quote: “There is too much crime in South Africa. I was in South Africa for two weeks and I was not mugged, not even once, but two days after arriving in Mexico I was mugged three times.”
The audience was baffled with his statement, so one delegate stood up and ask on what basis is he then making a statement that there was too much crime in South Africa? He said that is what the South Africans are saying themselves.
On a lighter note it is also said that the best country where you will find the best written policies and programmes of action, is South Africa, but equally they say, if you want to learn how not to implement policies and programmes, go to South Africa. This is a bad reputation indeed, so the starting point will be to ensure that social partners account for their commitments and that there should be regular feedback session of reporting and evaluating progress. It is said that every time we encounter problems, we set up a committee to deal with it. If the Committee fails we are also quick to set up a sub-committee to investigate why the principal committee failed to deliver.
I hope that the question that South Africa’s social compact has buckled under pressure, Can it be realigned to suit new conditions, and is not a covert attempt to create a new one, but is a genuine call for a review in order to understand the underlying challenges so that we can strengthen, tool and retool what we already have.
Organisations do have an unwritten sell-by-date and it is important that from time to time regular reviews are conducted to see if conceptually and the design is still suited for executing what it was set out to do. No one can claim monopoly of dialogue; dialogue must permeate every facet of what we do as a society.
Dialogue must flourish in every corner of our society however it needs proper coordination in order to derive meaningful results and outcomes. Uncoordinated dialogue will be a recipe for dialogue-paralysis that has no end goal.
I welcome this initiatives if its primary objective is to enrich and tangible value to the Nation and move South Africa forward. I have no reason to doubt that it is precisely for that. I must just remind you that Social dialogue is not an event, but a process, sometimes it produces the results we all agree with and in some instances it doesn’t, it is sometimes quick and sometimes it is painstakingly slow.
Congratulations for this initiatives and I wish you all the best going forward. I look forward to the Department of Labour being one of the regulars in your dialogue sessions especially during this time when the labour law amendments are creating such a buzz. That will be a subject for another day I suppose.
Dialogue has served this country very well indeed; more opportunities for dialogue should be warmly welcomed.
Let’s all go out there and preach the message that the attacks on foreign nationals must stop. “Milk and honey have different colours, but they share the same house peacefully”, one of the African proverbs on peace.
I thank you
SOURCE: South African Official News