Irresponsible unions

I make no claims to be a businessman, economist or entrepreneur. I am just an ordinary person in the early evening of his life but I am saddened and angered by a number of things and try to engage when and where my small voice might cause someone to pause for thought.

I once managed a small factory in South Africa that employed a number of people. Black people, mostly from Zimbabwe.

One day our welder, who was also our driver, came back from collecting a cheque and I noticed him talking to some of the others and gathered it was about the cheque – which had not been placed in a sealed envelope so had been carefully scrutinised before being handed in to the bookkeeper.

Asking what it was all about I was told (I will refer to the owner of the company as Mike) that Mike had just received a cheque for R400,000.00. The general feeling was that he was really lucky to be getting such a big amount.

Curious, I asked if the cheque had been made out to the company or to Mike in his personal capacity and of course it had been made out to the company. So I asked if they really, really thought that that money was going to Mike in his personal capacity. I could immediately see that this was considered a silly question – of course it must be for him as he is the boss and he sent for it to be collected.

I then asked them if they budgeted their wages and proceeded to describe an oversimplified family budget – rent, school fees, clothes, food, water and electricity, transport et al. I ended by saying that once all that has been taken care of then, and only then, could one look at what, if anything, is left over. If there is some left over then maybe one can go to a movie, have some friends over for a meal and maybe even put some aside – savings for a rainy day.

This concept was clearly understood so I now proceeded to ask them what they think becomes of money that the company gets in – earns. I got a kind of a puzzled look and asked if they had given a thought to the fact that the company also had overheads.

Wages, utilities, vehicle finance and fuel and maintenance. Equipment maintenance and new tools as necessary.

Once wages have been paid…and I went on explaining that every penny that comes in has to be accounted for in terms of expenses and then raw materials to make more product and then, and only then, could the owners and directors look to taking a share, or their wages, out of what was left from the month’s income.

It took some effort to get these men to realise that the buildings were not just there for us to use. That we paid for the phones and electricity and water and everything else out of the income from sales after we had paid all our accounts, paid our staff and so on. It was a bit uphill but the message got through. It was obvious that the costs associated with running a business had not really been given any thought. The business was just there, where they worked.

We all know that making rich or wealthy people poor, will not benefit the worker or the job seeker. The person with the vision who is prepared to take the risk in business will take his abilities elsewhere, where they will be appreciated and not be penalised for creating an enterprise that provides the means for others to earn a living.

Now interestingly these factory workers were mostly men who had immigrated from Zimbabwe in the late 1980s and early 1990s and had benefited from the one thing Mugabe had got right up to that time –  education. It was interesting to hear from these men that they were surprised by the levels of illiteracy they encountered in the townships but for all that they were still relatively ignorant in terms of the VERY BASICS of how a business operates – and a small/medium business at that.

The point of all this is that every year South Africa has the same riots and demands over wages and these demands are often, USUALLY in fact, outrageous and not sustainable – not to mention destructive and wasteful with town centres trashed, shops looted and even burned. All supposedly to protest poor wages…there is no logic to it.

In my considered opinion the unions carefully do NOT school their members and shop stewards on how business works and whip up their uninformed members every year regardless of the harm that it does to the economy and the image of the country as a business destination.

The unions are irresponsible and culpable in this because if their members were informed and basically knowledgeable on how businesses function then they would better understand why certain things are not easily granted. They would know that minimum wages are keeping many of their friends and family on the outside of the workforce. They might even begin to realise that the riots and strikes for unsustainable and unreasonable increases are mischievous in the extreme.

Until there is better understanding – REAL UNDERSTANDING – by the various workforces around this matter it will never be resolved.

Building a home requires everyone to work together but building a nation that is prosperous NEEDS a united vision and every time that vision starts to take shape it is quickly obscured by irresponsible, inept, greedy and selfish agendas.

Can the unions be rationalised? As long as they see the ANC as their protector and benefactor I rather doubt it and until then the country will continue to suffer because what the union is meant to be there for – to see to the fairness or otherwise of the workers conditions – has been subsumed by that thing that seems to be at the heart of everything – power to the few.