Settling for peace: A way out for South Africa?

Peace settlements and negotiations in labour relations South Africa - www.labourflaws.comBy guest author Adv. Lukas du Preez. We are currently being bombarded ad nauseam with almost nothing but bad news in South Africa: extreme poverty experienced by a great portion of our citizens; horrendous crime statistics; low economic growth; continued corruption; lack of political morals; and the list goes on. Unfortunately, the reality of much of this cannot be denied.

A spiraling negative mood – but, wait!

Against this backdrop it is almost inevitable that a spirit of despondency and negativeness would set in, in many cases giving rise to increased levels of aggression (with some people even carrying cricket bats in the boots of their cars to settle traffic arguments!). Add to this increased levels of racial tension in our diverse country, often associated with misconceptions of someone else’s intentions, and you have a recipe for an ever continuing, spiraling negative mood in our country, killing positive energy, growth, initiative and development.

This unfortunately also causes us to ignore the many positive things we have: our beautiful country, the fact that in general, people of different races, cultures, religion and social background in reality do get on just fine. And the fact that there are some moral giants around, who are prepared to do and say the right things, notwithstanding possible controversy. An example is Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who recently called upon all South Africans, black and white, to sacrifice selfish, individual own interests and racial focus in favour of the broader issues that need to be addressed in our country. He has also recently handed down some courageous decisions in Court, notwithstanding political pressure.

There are also many other positive people and stories, but I want to highlight only one such matter, in which I have been fortunate enough to be involved with for more than 30 years in my career: Labour Relations.

A model for peace: the settlement of labour disputes

One could well argue that in the field of labour relations, those negative perceptions and conflicts referred to above, should thrive even more than in any other area in the socio-economic- and political environment. Labour relations is after all the arena where the employer and employee must deal with bread-and-butter issues, often materially affecting the very livelihood of families and continued operation of businesses. This could easily set the scene for a very destructive battleground. (As was in fact happening in the mid-80s before an effective model for dispute resolution became entrenched).

Before you summarily disagree with me and quote unemployment figures, the negative effects of strikes and the cost of litigation, consider the following factual statistics:

In the 2016/17 financial year, the CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration) alone in South Africa successfully resolved more than 5000 disputes of interests (mostly related to wage negotiations). If you think for a moment that each of these disputes involved hundreds (even possibly thousands) of employees and that industrial action could have occurred in each case in the absence of settlement, the total impact becomes clear.

1000 disputes per day, 75% settled by CCMA. In totality, 188449 disputes of all kinds were referred to the CCMA alone during the 2016/17 financial year: This is close to 1000 disputes per working day! And 75% of these disputes were settled, thereby avoiding conflict and potential litigation in respect of 141337 disputes.

Bargaining Councils settle disputes daily. The statistics for major Bargaining Councils (e.g. in the Chemical-, Steel & Engineering, Road Freight and quite a number of others) in the country reflect similar tendencies, although on a lesser scale in terms of numbers.

Sectoral determinations avoid conflict. In addition, various Sectoral Determinations (e.g. in the Security sector, Farm-and Domestic worker sectors and so on), successfully regulate conditions in those sectors after consultation/negotiation between relevant stakeholders, involving thousands of employees.

Conciliation by private sector. And further, various private agencies facilitate negotiations and successful settlements across the spectrum all the time.

In-house settlement efforts. No statistics are available in respect of the vast number of disputes settled on an in-house basis all across industry in South Africa, from the simple individual dismissal case to more complex issues involving substantive matters and conditions of service.

The real value of settlements

The collective and broader impact of all of the above-mentioned negotiations, consultations and eventual settlements can- and should not be underestimated, in particular if one takes cognizance of the fact that the interaction in this regard almost without exception moves across racial and cultural lines.

Naturally, for those who always see the glass as half empty, it could be argued that the cost of settlement mostly comes from the pocket of the employer. Whilst this may be true, the question could be raised what the cost would have been if a compromised settlement was not reached.

But more important in the bigger scheme: in the process people learn the immense value of reaching compromised solutions rather than resorting to conflict and/or litigation which will leave just one party (relatively) satisfied. Perhaps greed has become the number one enemy in South Africa in many spheres of life and compromise is a good antidote to greed! In the process, people experience that there is my way, your way and our way. And let us not underestimate the psychological positive value for all concerned through these interactions, consultation, negotiation and eventual compromise that precede agreements and settlements.

In my humble view, this is one of the success stories in our country.


Note by Barbara du Preez-Ulmi, owner of While settlements and peace negotiations may often be necessary in order to keep labour peace against a huge background of disputes daily, and may regularly be the most efficient option for conflict resolution on-the-spot – leaving both parties enough satisfied – there is a need, at the same time, to invest in deep root conflict resolution at our places of work and business. This starts with finding the right way to communicate; with putting the right systems and processes in place; with welcoming diversity; and with creating true, integrated transformation.


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