Endless strikes, and bargaining tactics characterised by violence and intimidation, are damaging both to workers' own interests and to the economy, President Jacob Zuma told a Workers' Day rally at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane on Thursday.
Zuma used the Workers' Day celebrations to call on union leaders and mine owners to find common ground to end the crippling three-month strike over wages affecting the platinum belt in South Africa's North West province.
"Unions must always be alive to the realities that endless strikes are not in the interests of the economy, and indeed are not in the interests of workers themselves," Zuma said at a Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) rally.
While democracy had given unions and workers several rights - including the rights to fair labour practice, forming and joining a union, and collective bargaining - these rights had not come cheaply, and should be used by workers "constructively to better their lives and determine their destiny," Zuma said.
The right to strike should never be allowed "to degenerate into anarchy ... The methods of engagement employed by trade unions must always appreciate that we now have a democratic government put in place by an overwhelming majority of our people, most of whom are workers."
At the same time, Zuma called on companies not to exploit their labour, but to "respect the rights of workers and pay them proper wages in line with the labour framework".
He added that the mining sector needed to move faster in achieving the objectives set out in the Mining Charter. "I think we should all agree that the time has come for the situations on the mines to change."