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Restive labour costs

Mon, 03 September 2012

ONGOING labour unrest, especially in the mining industry, could see South Africa's gross domestic product (GDP) drop another percentage point this year, says the CEO of a leading local business skills training provider.

Liza van Wyk, CEO of AstroTech Training in Parktown, Joburg says the drop could be 1,5% or even 2%.

"The IMF in its August country analysis of South Africa noted that labour unrest in the mining and manufacturing sectors pushed the GDP down 1% last year."

But the situation has been even worse this year and is still volatile, it says.

"Unless companies and government start managing the situation better we will see at least a point, or a point and a half lopped off an already weak GDP," it warns, adding that GDP will be just 3% this year.

"But," says Van Wyk, "the IMF report was written well before Marikana and I believe GDP could be as low as 2% or just 1,5% which means the economy is essentially stagnating."

She says the IMF predicted: "Impatience with the high structural unemployment, particu- larly of the young, could lead to inappropriate responses that might threaten macroeconomic stability."

"In addition, adverse external developments and domestic shocks could increase further unacceptably high levels of unemployment."

"Unfortunately we are on track to meet, or exceed, the worst predictions unless we begin turning things around rapidly."

However, it seems employers are trying to do just that, she notes.

Van Wyk says AstroTech, which trains thousands of middle managers and executives each year, had seen increased interest in courses relating to conflict management and emotional intelligence since the Marikana killings.

"Employers are concerned about high levels of tension. Strike season in South Africa usually runs from May to September, but there is considerable concern that workplace discord could remain until after the ANC's policy conference in Mangaung in December.

"Employers are trying to handle these events more empathetically in an effort to dampen anger ... and to ensure harmony and productivity in the workplace."

But Van Wyk says employers' feel bedevilled by circumstances beyond their control.

"They cannot improve service delivery, better education systems or improve roads or transport.

"More productive employees can help keep production costs down, which would lead to lower inflation and better prices, but it's a difficult message to get through at present," she says.

Restive labour costs -