The word “dispute” must be removed from the vocabulary in labour-related matters, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Friday.
“Let us remove the word ‘dispute’ from our vocabulary and replace it with the word ‘negotiate’.
“Dialogue has become an important way of addressing our challenges,” he said.
Ramaphosa was speaking at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) annual summit in Illovo, north of Johannesburg.
He said Nedlac reminded him of the days when he was general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers where negotiating was the main form of solving labour-related problems in the sector.
South Africans were beginning to question which direction the country was currently headed.
“I always derive joy and strength from the fact that… we’ve got a very strong and firm foundation. We achieved a great deal. Many nations envy the great results we have achieved in our country.”
He said poverty, unemployment and inequality were massive problems and mountains which still needed to be overcome.
“Inequality is the Mount Everest for us.”
An institution such as Nedlac was one of the country’s successes for its role in bringing business, labour and civil organisations to the table.
“It was established on the back of a difficult negotiated transition and has played a critical role in meeting the challenge of social development and economic growth.
“On Nedlac’s shoulders is the responsibility to address some of the challenges in this country.”
Problems would not be solved if people looked at isolated departments and organisations.
“Many other countries don’t have a structure like [Nedlac]… even more developed economies come here to learn how we put it together.”
He said any legislation which had a socio-economic impact on the country went through Nedlac to be discussed or negotiated.
But the forum did have its weakness, Ramaphosa said.
“It has had mixed success. There have been weakness and challenges it faced. Our task is far from complete.”
Growth was a necessity for social progress and South Africans wanted growth they could touch and feel, he said.
“We need to confront the monster of poverty and inequality. Inequality is an affront to the new democratic order.”
He said forums such as Nedlac were responsible for providing South Africans with good and better opportunities.
“No social partner can be left behind. We succeed or we fail, together.”
The country’s growth prospects were hindered by the state of the global economy and a number of local factors including low investments, low savings, weak domestic demand, energy constraints and issues in the labour market.
He said infrastructure and production programmes would help boost the country’s economy.
“If President Jacob Zuma was deployed to the infrastructure department only, for the year, he would open [a new building or road] every week because the infrastructure programme is under way as we speak.”
The implementation of a minimum wage was a matter which also needed to be addressed.
“What we need to do is move forward in dealing with the modalities of introducing and implementing a national minimum wage.
“We’ve got to move in unison as a nation, while we must proceed with urgency.”
The matter would be discussed more broadly at the labour indaba hosted by government in November, Ramaphosa said.
“At the November Labour Relations Indaba, all social partners are expected to present their proposals so that we can thoroughly and thoughtfully engage on this national minimum wage issue.”