February 4, 2014
National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC)
New dialogue calls for some new thinking
PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma’s decision to initiate a “high-level dialogue” to address the challenges facing South Africa post-Marikana has revived discussion about the importance of social dialogue, and — possibly — the need for a new social consensus to address existing challenges.
But if the social partners in this conversation — government, business, labour and civil society — are to take forward the dialogue with meaning we will have to overcome a serious trust deficit that is eating away at relationships between the partners.
The framework for the presidential dialogue has hit the right buttons. It looks, for example, at how to address inequality, social cohesion, youth employment, investor confidence and crime and lawlessness. It also focuses on conditions around mining towns, the state of the labour market, infrastructure delivery and social security issues.
Thankfully, there is also consensus that no single formation has all the answers.
There is recognition that social dialogue is the grease that is needed to get the machine moving, and that this must involve all social partners.
The National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), historically, stands at the centre of social dialogue initiatives. But it has to develop new approaches to its own new challenges — not least of which is to ensure it maintains high-level involvement in its activities.
We need, to borrow from the Irish economic turnaround, to begin a process of thrashing out a number of multi-year national agreements based on “negotiated consensus”.
But if we are to work with each other, and talk with each other, we also have to trust each other. And this, currently, is one of the major challenges that not only Nedlac has to overcome, but each of its social partners.
As Gavin Hartford, CEO of The Esop Shop, stated during a recent panel discussion at the Gordon Institute of Business Science, the social partners have to “put things in the pot” instead of “stripping down the goose that lays the golden egg”.
This is not going to be easy, particularly in a post-Marikana environment where relations between government, business, labour and civil society are being examined not just with a view to finding .