Participation or rule - Which approach could have the better short term prospects of improving the working environment in South Africa?

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During the apartheid era, industrial relations in South Africa were highly adversarial. The large black unions were basically mass protest organisations campaigning against white political power and the general climate was not conducive towards the creation of participatory structures at the workplace level. On the contrary, shop stewards were nurtured in the skills of confrontation and disruption. This paper argues that barriers to workplace participatory structures sown under apartheid will disappear only slowly and that this will negatively influence the prospects of such structures to be a vehicle for improvements in the working environment - at least in the short term. On the other hand, this paper argues, recent developments in the South African labour market are increasingly conducive towards the use of rules (or procedures) in the workplace. Companies increasingly produce and adhere to standard operating procedures (SOPs) a part of ISO quality management certification schemes. Furthermore, because of low levels of formal skills of the workforce, recent legislation requires employers to spend a certain percentage of the wage sum on skills upgrading. A likely consequence is that companies will standardise tasks by means of SOPs, train employees to follow the SOPs and then issue compliance certificates. The Scandinavian countries have a tradition of consensus, participation and reliance on local activities to advance the working environment. The paper does not seek to decry this participation-based approach or question the value of it, but rather point to certain limitations and difficulties if a similar approach is transferred to other countries, for example as part of development assistance programmes.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the Nordiska Ergonomisällskapets arskonferense NES 2000 : Ved Inngangen til Cyberspace – ergonomisk tenkning inn i et nytt årtusen
EditorsKnut Inge Fostervold, Tor Endestad
PublisherNordiska Ergonomisälskapet
Publication date2000
Publication statusPublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes
EventNordiska Ergonomisällskapets Årskonferanse - Trondheim, Norway
Duration: 23 Oct 200025 Oct 2000


ConferenceNordiska Ergonomisällskapets Årskonferanse

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