Fifi Peters: The strike season seems to be heating up lately. Several workers have been on strike in several companies so far.
Just look at the ongoing protests in Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold activities. ArcelorMittal also announced that its workers, such as the York Timbers, were on strike last week. Indeed, unions representing public sector workers have indicated that the South African Revenue Service, a protest against the reduction in equipment at SARS, could be in the pipeline – perhaps if they do not find their way.
But just to see this year’s strike season and what might be different than the previous season, I joined OIM International Director Chris Jacobs. Chris, thanks for joining [us]. It is always a pleasure to talk to you. What do you do with the current protests under the way?
Chris Jacobs: Well, Fifi, good evening and thank you so much for the opportunity. Now this is very interesting, because I think we need to draw a line in terms of duration. So far, let’s say, in February of this year, things seem to be going pretty well. We had a couple of resolutions in some of your small to medium sized organizations which [ended] We will. We, for example, at a different level, there were parliamentary agreements in terms of workers.
But then we sit down with the current strike, like one in Sibon. We had the Clover Strike, the Numsa Strike of ArcelorMittal. On May 25, we went on a full-scale strike.
So one of the things I’ve been seeing is happening – and everyone is referring to it [it] The economic situation has changed drastically not only in South Africa but in the world since the invasion of Ukraine.
So what we are currently sitting on is a situation where many more countries around the world are going through a very difficult inflation situation. This is a major factor in changing the mindset and outlook we have on both sides of the table and in the discussions ahead. That, on the one hand, no [augur] Good for us in terms of upcoming elections on issues like platinum industry, public service. And what we’re seeing right now is going to happen in SARS as well.
Fifi Peters: In terms of SARS, I believe that the offer they made has increased by 0%. I should correct, but if it is, it’s not really going to fly in an environment where the cost of living is flying by itself.
Chris Jacobs: Exactly. So I think if we want to be rational and see the views on both sides of the table, then there will be no more difficulties in the cost of living for your low-income group. If we talk about the actual cost of living on the one hand, what we are being told is that our current inflation rate is around 5.9%. But I believe that someone is going to shop and trying to buy a certain pocket thing that you can buy [as recently] As of December last year, for example, and now compare to product prices, there is already a huge difference.
It’s not just your low-income group. I believe and I have seen and I feel that your middle-income groups are feeling the same loss in this regard.
Add that interest rate increase. Especially again, if we look at your middle-income group, people are often indebted for housing, cars, and more, and they feel the same way about your low-income group. One of the funny things about me is if someone looks at the negotiators around the front table, [in the current] The situation, those who are negotiating for the union, and those who are negotiating for management, I believe, find themselves in the same storm. They may be in different boats at this stage, but they find themselves in the same storm.
This is going to be an interesting thing when people come forward to discuss – whether it’s in the platinum industry, it’s a few other companies that are going to be in talks soon.
I hope this leads to a better understanding of each other’s position.
On the other hand, we probably also see that they have found themselves in a dire strait situation in the current harsh reality of our economic situation. In the short to medium term there is no situation where there is light in the tunnel.
Fifi Peters: I agree with you. It’s not spending just 5.9% more on my groceries than it was a year ago. It costs me more than that. But does that mean, Chris, that even companies that put inflation-related growth on the table may find it difficult to get unions to agree to inflation-related growth in this environment, because the price pressure they are feeling is much higher than 5.9%? Is that you
Chris Jacobs: Yes, of course. Often the whole idea of the cost of living is being used, [that] The rate of inflation is going up. And then often companies go for a certain wage increase, let’s say, plus-2% to cover it. It’s not about taking sides here, but the fact is that we’ve all found ourselves in this storm.
You’re right, you’re paying a lot more for that same basket of products than at the end of last year. It is a fact that everyone in South Africa feels it. This is exactly what they feel when it comes to shopping.
That’s why I’m saying it’s going to be very interesting, because both sides are experiencing this experience in terms of the negotiating table. It is doubtful whether we will be relieved just by raising the rate of inflation. That was fine until January of this year, but in the meantime our situation has changed dramatically.
Fifi Peters: That being said, companies also need to be aware of raising their spending bills to a point that does not sustain their operations, as many of these increases are. [over] More than a year. Many of these wage agreements last for more than a year. You will find that for most of them it is a three year wage contract that has expired.
The outlook for the economy is still one that is quite fragile. We have just slowed the growth of the Reserve Bank. We don’t know how much it will go down, and so companies will probably want to avoid situations where they feel unable to manage themselves sustainably, because we all know they can’t go down when wages go up.
Chris Jacobs: Yes. Soon we are back in survival mode. The first and second coveted waves have brought many companies to their knees. And again we are in the same situation for different reasons. In the meantime, I wonder if the general sympathy of the time was what we needed to survive, [that] We all have to get in there and keep the company going.
I think that the sympathy we felt during Kovid’s time in the changed situation may no longer be relevant and so we may see more hostile discussions than before.
I think in terms of management, as well as in terms of unions, they would be very reluctant to go into a long-term contract, usually a three-year contract. Perhaps best of all we are going to see a one-year contract in most of these cases, on the basis of which ‘our company must continue’. The situation could be even worse than what we are feeling right now and if we want to keep our doors open we have to make some compromises. So I think we’re also in a short-term deal.
Fifi Peters: Chris, thank you so much for your time. Yeah Al that sounds pretty crap to me, Looks like BT aint for me either. It would be really interesting to see how everything unfolds. We’ll leave it there for now. Chris Jacobs is a director at OIM International.