Strikes in 2018 reaches a high in the past five year – Department of Employment and Labour
5 February 2020

​South Africa's workers lost an estimated R266-million in wages in 2018 due to strike activities, and during the period work stoppages also reached a highest recording over the past five years, according to the Department of Employment and Labour's strike monitoring report.


According to the Industrial Action Report (IAR) 2018 more than R251-million was lost in wages in 2017. The IAR says there were 137 712 workers involved in labour disputes in 2018, close to 11% more than in 2017.


The number of work stoppages increased to 165 in 2018 from 132 in 2017 and according to the report this represents 25% increase in strikes from the previous year. This was 3.5 times more than in 2014.


“The rise in the number of strike in 2018 came at a time when the country was hit by a technical recession and the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had negatively performed in the second quarter of 2018," said the Industrial Action Report.


In 2018, more than one million (1 158 945) of working days were lost due to 165 industrial disputes, an increase of 20.7% compared to 960 489 working days lost from 132 strikes in 2017, said the IAR.


The report shows that the community industry in the public sector had recorded the most strikes over the last five-year periods. In 2018, the community industry recorded (77 strikes and 303 119 working days lost) the highest number of industrial disputes which resulted mainly from the health and social services and municipality workers who downed tools over grievances that were lodged against the employers for unpleasant working conditions in the sectors.


The manufacturing industry on the other hand, was the second highest with 23 strikes and 227 040 working days lost due to high wage demands by workers. The sector is currently regarded as a key in the governments' job creation plans, said the report. It further said the trade industry followed the manufacturing industry with 21 strikes and 180 588 working days lost in 2018. This was due to the high number of unresolved grievances and wage demands.


Unlike in 2017 where workers in the mining industry lost wages of more than R137 million, the transport industry in 2018 recorded the highest wage loss at R131 million.


Over the five years (2014-2018), the demand over wages, bonus and other compensation benefits, grievances lodged against employers and unpleasant working conditions were the main reasons why workers went on industrial action. In 2018, the majority of workers, 68% went on strike to demand for high wages, bonus and other compensation benefits. The private sector saw more working days lost than the public sector in 2018, for example, the passenger transport sector lost 278 516 working days due to strikes;


The report said the number of working days lost per 1 000 employees increased between 2016 and 2018 in South Africa. However, said the report, there were interesting result(s) where the number of working days lost per 1 000 employees shrunk from 670 in 2014 to 76 in 2018.


Despite the 76 working days lost per 1 000 employees in 2018, the report said it could not signify that South Africa is a 'strike prone' country when compared with other emerging countries. These number of days lost per 1 000 employees involved on strikes follows incidents of strike actions recorded from small, medium and large company establishments.


The report emphasises that the strikes have economic effects to both employers and employees. The employers are likely to lose profits due to delayed service to clients or loss of production time. The employees will lose their pay due to “no work, no pay principle" and that has a direct impact in their communities and families as well.


Said the IAR, the strike trend shows high number of unprotected strike action in 2018 than in the previous year. Union leaders will have to address un-procedural strikes.


The report calls for a look at those industries where high strikes were confined and the strengthening of collective bargaining.


For more information on the IAR contact:


Abrahams Mutedi

Director: Labour Market Information and Statistics Unit  

084 628 1403




Issued by: Department of Employment and Labour