What is the lasting solution to current wage negotiations in the mining industry? Perhaps what we need is a shift in attitude more than anything.
The unpredictable, fast paced, highly visible, volatile, connected and radically changed environment we find ourselves in necessitates something different. We cannot approach situations as we always have expecting different results.
We have to realise that there is a trust deficit of note between most leaders at the top and their followers – be it in politics, business or labour. And this most certainly applies to mining bosses and their thousands of employees. It also includes the relationship between union leaders and their members.
There are many reasons for this – to mention but three:
- When any leader makes promises and doesn’t deliver, the trust relationship is damaged. In today’s unpredictable world, over the last decade or two leaders collectively have made promises on which they couldn’t deliver – to their electorate, employees, the market place, and shareholders, to name a few.
- Our world is much more visible and leaders more exposed than ever before. When their behaviour doesn’t match their professed values and words this incongruence spreads like wild fire.
- The old model of hierarchical ‘power’ is crumbling. Just because someone is at the top does not mean he or she can exert power. The ‘bottom’ of the pyramid now has means to challenge the ‘top’ through the advent of social media and interconnected networks. Most leaders depend on their position in order to influence and when they do this they damage the trust relationship because by default followers perceive that they are not treated with sufficient respect.
These factors and more have resulted in a massive trust deficit and chasm between leaders and followers.
Leaders of Mining Houses approach the negotiation table from a vastly different context than a couple of years ago, and so do the leaders of different unions. The labour landscape is different. There has been a shift in ‘player power’ and similarly also in the politics that serve as a backdrop to labour negotiations.
Mines are struggling with escalating costs, which in today’s world will probably remain par for the course. This may be the new reality until leaders somehow do something radically different.
Employee involvement has intensified and they are more connected and aware of all these dynamics than in recent past. Their ability to mobilize has increased dramatically. They don’t just accept union or corporate leaders based on title. Soon neither union nor corporate managers will be in a position to manipulate their followers for their own selfish or short-sighted agendas. Employees or members will require one thing and one thing only – authenticity. They need to feel that leaders are truly open, not condescending, honestly concerned with their wellbeing, with the big picture and future in mind.
Another stock standard wage settlement following back and forth grand standing, possibly protracted strikes with huge losses, including life, will end up as a short term solution with no positive impact on the trust deficit, which will never be restored by simply offering a handsome increase. Leaders must do something in the form of real, realistic and tangible actions for long term solutions.
The industry – South Africa – needs inspired leadership, someone that will step up to the plate with not only a broader solution that involves more than a fair wage increase, but also some symbolic, authentic, surprising act that goes a long way to bridge the gap. We need leaders that think and act like Nelson Mandela, who add the touch of brilliance, as he did by arriving at the 1995 world cup with a number 6 jersey on. You may be tired of hearing this, but it is true.
Finally, we need leaders that are more concerned about being on the wrong side of truth than they are about being on the wrong side of history – because, usually when one is on the right side of truth one will end up on the right side of history. There are no better examples of this than Former President Nelson Mandela.
David Sepunzi, Joseph Mathunjwa, Graham Briggs, Neal Froneman and all other leaders involved in this current process, please step up to the plate. Reach very deep and take the relationship between corporate, labour and employees to another level – closer towards industry-wide unity.
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