Cape Town - More than 20.4 million workdays were lost last year as a result of strikes.
This was more than double those lost in 2007, in what was then regarded as the biggest public service strike in South Africa’s history.
In 2007 about 9.5 million workdays were lost, and the 2010 figures come after huge job losses in 2009, when only 1.5 million workdays were lost.
Some economists have warned that last year’s massive loss could be repeated this year.
On Wednesday the statistics on workdays lost came to light in the Department of Labour’s provisional 2010 report on industrial action.
In a departmental presentation to a sitting of the labour portfolio committee, which document could not be officially discussed by the committee because of time constraints, it was mentioned that the 2010 loss of workdays amounted to almost 20.7 million (excluding retrenchments and other losses).
Last year was characterised by a public service strike, as well as other protracted strikes in the private sector.
The year was further marked by double-digit wage-increase demands, despite inflation being very low.
Preliminary calculations around these provisional figures indicated that workers lost at least R3bn in direct salaries, said Economists.co.za economist Mike Schüssler.
But the total loss to the economy – which is more difficult to calculate because of, say, the long-term effect of strikes – could easily be between R6bn and R9bn or even higher, said Schüssler.
Last year Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan had to make a R7.2bn adjustment to the 2010 budget to provide for higher wages, among other things, following the public service strike.
Efficient Group economist Dawie Roodt said that he had expected that number of workdays to have been lost, but if the situation were not arrested this year the same scale of strikes could soon be seen.
The department said the consequences of last year’s strikes had aggravated relationships between trade unions and management.