As a former Human Resource Manager at Transnet for 10 years, Mkhize’s study was motivated by his own observations and experiences of strikes and their impact on worker-management-union relations at Transnet as well as across South Africa. ‘As an older student, I felt compelled to contribute meaningfully towards the discourse on strike behaviour at Transnet with the intention of addressing a gap in local studies on South African state enterprises,’ said Mkhize.
He says he is concerned about the lack of initiatives from Industrial Relations experts and researchers in finding innovative methodologies to resolve workplace conflicts as strikes alone have shown to have lagged behind in their ability to assist conflict resolution processes. ‘Too much emphasis is placed on strikes as a “right” without any new effort to establish their effectiveness in solving 21st Century conflict problems.’
Research results from Mkhize’s study show that participants were not satisfied with most of the actions associated with strikes in the workplace and those who did participate could not make a contribution on any alternatives to strikes to resolve conflicts.
‘Participants generally believe that striking is the best solution in the absence of any new initiatives. They stated reasons for involvement in strikes as loyalty to their union on the one hand, as well as fear, intimidation and threats of violence from co-workers on the other hand,’ said Mkhize.
He concludes that a strike by its nature is a historical demonstration of collective power. ‘The relationship between employer and employee with regard to work relations revolve around the strength of one against the other. Concessions on various issues tend to be gained based on the strength of each party in a particular interaction. Expressions of power relations carry with them elements of force, threats and fear of different kinds. Unless there is a change in the philosophy and the concept of work and work relations in general, industrial relations cannot escape issues and elements of force which are an expression of power relations which manifest into strikes,’ explains Mkhize.
He recommends that reforms in the workplace should include communication of company vision, mission and values; education and training of employees in human relations; proper application of negotiated agreements; enhancement of feedback systems; improvement of safety in the work environment, and a continuous review of work design.