Four IR challenges and trends for 2014

In a recent article published in Human Capital Review, Prof Barney Jordaan, who will be speaking at our upcoming Industrial Relations Conference in May 2014, revealed some startling insights regarding the state of Industrial Relations in South Africa.

Here’s what he had to say…

Industrial relations in SA: What to expect for 2014

Saying employment and labour relations in South Africa are in a bad state, is stating the obvious. Just how bad it is, is evident from the 2013 World Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum which on this aspect ranked South Africa 144th out of 144 countries surveyed.

Many blame the current statutory labour relations framework as the main culprit, pointing fingers at the system of centralised bargaining and dismissal protection in particular. I would submit that the framework is essentially sound and in line with what one finds in other societies that subscribe to the rule of law and human rights. The real problem, I believe, lies in the attitudes and mindsets of the actors within the labour retains system, which the law can do little about.

If change must happen, as it must, it must start with the way in which employers, workers and their representatives (i.e. managers, shop stewards and union officials) engage one another not only at the bargaining table, but on a daily basis on the shop floor. Doing so is not a legal matter, nor is it just an HR or labour relations issue.

#1 Challenge: Moving from confrontation to collaboration

It is, in the first place, a question of moving from confrontation to collaboration, which in itself requires a change in mindset, the establishment of a collaborative workplace culture and acquiring the skills necessary for constructive engagement around workplace issues. This is the easier part. More difficult is the narrowing of the “trust deficit” in employment relations, which goes beyond learning new skills and involves the bigger challenge of developing higher levels of trust at every level in the organisation, based on integrity and competence of the role players.

In short, a change in organisational culture, driven by wise leadership, is needed. Ideally, this is a process that should happen on both sides of the employment relationship. However, trust begets trust. Management has it within their power to initiate and lay the groundwork for a different form of engagement.

#2 Challenge: Facing problems head-on

The second challenge is how we address the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’, i.e., the evils of unemployment, poverty and inequality. While employers might be limited in their ability to address some of these challenges, we can also not leave it all to government to address. It is a societal issue that affects all and therefore requires effort from everyone for everyone’s sake.

In the famous words of the late Dr Anton Rupert: “I cannot sleep well when others don’t eat well”. This is not about being altruistic but realising that many of the challenges employers face on the shop floor have their origins in the omnipresence of the elephant and that until those are addressed, upheaval is inevitable. Those challenges will not disappear if their causes are not addressed. This goes beyond CSI spend, and includes investment in employee welfare and development; greater employee engagement (or ‘voice’) in matters affecting them beyond mere legal compliance; as well as giving employees a fair share for their efforts.

#3 Challenge: Rewarding appropriately

The third challenge is related to the last point above. We need to link reward with effort, i.e., to introduce performance-based remuneration to replace the current system that rewards employees simply for being willing and able to work, irrespective of their attitude, performance or contribution. It will take courage and perseverance to do so particularly in unionised environments where unions subscribe to the religion of across-the-board increases and an injury for one being an injury for all. However, productivity and competitiveness will not grow until a different basis for reward has been established.

#4 Challenge: Dealing with conflict decisively

Finally, unresolved or poorly managed conflicts are costly. Organisations should become more ‘conflict wise’ by changing their approach to conflict and the manner in which it is dealt with. The old saying is that while conflict is inevitable in human affairs, combat is optional. Harnessing the positives of differences in the work environment requires, among others, a change in one’s views about conflict, a particular skills-set for resolving conflicts early and collaboratively, as well as appropriate processes for doing so.

About Barney Jordaan

Professor Barney Jordaan is extraordinary professor at the Stellenbosch University Graduate School of Business (USB) where he has been teaching since 1987. A lawyer by training, he also simultaneously taught at the University’s law faculty for 14 years before moving into private practice in 1997, focusing in particular on workplace relations, employment law and dispute resolution. He teaches negotiation at the USB as well as at UCT’s Graduate School of Business and heads the ACDS’s Advanced Diploma in Dispute Settlement. He is an IMI certified mediator and has been involved in mediating labour, community and commercial disputes since 1988.

Professor Barney Jordaan will be speaking at the upcoming Industrial Relations Conference from the 21-22 May 2014 in Johannesburg. To learn more about this event – click here now.

Here are just a few of the topics that will be discussed:

  • The present and future South African labour relations landscape
  • The new Collective Bargaining Scenario: Strategies, realities, the way forward
  • The link between sound industrial relations and formal leadership and management practices
  • Sound employee relations: Key success factors for the knowledge and white collar worker environment
  • Performance management legal toolkit for employers
  • Managing poor performance at management and executive level: 10 crucial steps
  • Communication – before, during and after the strike
  • South African industrial relations framework: Supporting or hindering economic growth?
  • Alternative worker representation models: A way of restoring trust?
  • The aftermath of the motor industry strikes of 2013: Lessons learned and way forward
  • The power of mediation and alternative dispute resolution strategies
  • Collective Bargaining Reform: Restoring true worker democracy
  • The new labour laws in action: An early stock take of these laws

Click here to learn more about this event.


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