A new social partnership

Clashes between workers and management cause major up-heavals — but a programme at Wits University brings these players together.

This kind of ‘social partnership” constitutes a crucial means of understanding and solving the challenges facing business in South Africa, says Barbara Adair, co-director of the certificated programme in industrial relations offered jointly by the Wits Business School and the Graduate School for Public and Development Management.

The programme attracts labour, management and public sector practitioners, and aims to provide a solid grounding in industrial relations. Traditional areas of conflict come under the spotlight, as do challenges facing the new South Africa, such as HIV/Aids in the workplace and skills development.

The programme broke new ground when it was established 22 years ago as the first to include both management and labour. This year the programme has been expanded to include the public sector, since the state has an integral role to play in industrial relations. A new component on workplace challenges has also been added to address issues such as employment equity, restruc- turing and privatisation.

‘These challenges are very immediate to companies,” says Dr David Dickinson, programme co-director. ‘If a company doesn’t deal with HIV/Aids or they don’t develop the skills of their workers, they will go bankrupt and the unions are going to lose members.”

An advisory committee made up of experienced people from the state, labour and the private sector guides the programme, which features not only a theoretical understanding of law, economics and the structure of South African business, but also practical skills that students can use in the workplace.

‘We are looking for people engaged on a day-to-day basis with issues in their workplace, people who are leaders or potential leaders within the industrial relations sphere,” Dickinson says.

Students learned by interacting with each other in an environ- ment where they are encouraged to think, evaluate and criticise, Adair says. ‘It is an environment where they can explore ideas without penalties, which is harder for them to do in their own workplace,” adds Dickinson. — Witsnews

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