Dixie Thupe is a domestic worker in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs. She travels in from the south every day, using public transportation — usually buses.
But a nationwide bus strike, now in its fourth week, means she now must wake up two hours earlier to get to work on time.
Most workers in the country commute on public transportation. Now, bus riders must squeeze onto the already overcrowded minibus taxis, so there are long lines at taxi ranks, sometimes snaking for hundreds of meters.
“We get at work late, and then our bosses, they get angry at us. Normally, it takes me two hours, but now it’s 4½ hours to get home and to get to work,” Thupe said.
The strike presents a major inconvenience, she said, but many people waiting at taxi ranks understand the bus drivers’ concerns. Drivers said they cannot make ends meet with their current salaries, which average less than $1,000 a month.
Drivers initially demanded a 12 percent increase and lowered that demand to 9 percent. Employers are offering 8.75 percent. Also at issue is overnight work.
So far, the negotiations have been slow and frustrating.
?Last in labor relations
In the World Competitiveness Report 2017/2018, South Africa ranks last among 137 countries in the labor relations category. So, it may be no surprise that the economy is regularly hit by protracted strikes.
“The largest contributor to the finding is the lack of trust that we experience in the relationship between management and employees in a large number of South African companies,” said Gawie Cillié, an employment relations expert and lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch Business School in Cape Town.
“Unfortunately, this poor employment relationship then negatively impacts on company performance,” he said. “And then on a cumulative basis, one can argue there is also a negative impact on the South African economy.”
Giving a voice to employees
Cillié said in many companies, employees are not given a voice, and this is an important detail when developing trust and collaboration.
“For many years in South Africa, we have focused maybe too much on the formal side of the employment relationship,” he said. “We have very advanced labor legislation in South Africa, but in the process, the relationship part in employment relations has really suffered. This has been the case for at least the last four to five years.”
Cillié has been studying the relationships between managers and their teams for several years. He’s found that “we do not properly value those that are in our employment, and therefore, we do not recognize the various contributions that they could make through their inputs in decision-making processes in South African companies.”
To mend the situation, Cillié said a good place to start would be to increase manager-worker interactions. This includes honest discussions about the state of the business and plans for the future. This, he said, could allow all parties to feel connected to the companies where they spend most of their time.