The power of protest played a pivotal role in South Africa’s hard-won democracy and is firmly entrenched in the Constitution as a right for people to make their voices heard. However, if handled incorrectly, protracted strikes and protest actions can have deleterious effects on a business’s finances, employees, assets and reputation.
In 2021, Bloomberg reported that the South African steel industry strike, which lasted for 17 days, cost the industry about R500 million, with a concurrent loss of about R100 million in wages. The Mail & Guardian, meanwhile, reported that the nationwide unrest which broke out in July last year put about 150 000 jobs at risk and cost the economy an estimated R50 billion. These examples alone highlight why it is in employers’ and employees’ best interests to manage negotiations and protest action peacefully, and in a way that causes minimal disruption to business continuity and job stability.
“Businesses need to take an holistic approach to managing a strike; however, most organisations are either insufficiently prepared or take a siloed, reactionary approach, which can extend the duration of a protest and add cost for businesses,” says Stephan Botha, CEO of Thorburn Security Solutions. “Additionally, the longer a strike is drawn out, the more likely it is that emotions will escalate, increasing the possibility of risk to people’s lives, business assets and a company’s reputation.”
Choosing the right partner
Before businesses choose which security solutions services to partner with, it is important that they research their existing experience in managing all aspects of protests and strikes. Do they have the ability to help companies and protestors swiftly and safely reach resolutions? Can they do it while concurrently minimising cost and damage to assets and reputation?
The ideal partner should offer comprehensive training to prepare management teams for what to expect in the event of a strike, as well as access to specialised legal assistance which provides advice and the relevant legal documentation at various stages of a strike action. Some security solutions providers have close relationships with various state departments, trade unions, employer bodies, SAPS as well as national and international security bodies.
The advancement of technology has brought the inclusion of drones to specialised security solutions providers, allowing for a more proactive and rapid response level of patrol. Some are even fitted with 360-degree thermal cameras with a live feed to keep track of crowd movement, fire and other threats, even in poorer lighting conditions. This can then be communicated to security officers on the ground and they can mobilise accordingly.
And while the thought of non-lethal or even lethal-weaponed officers with armoured vehicles and helicopters protecting your business may seem dramatic on the surface, it’s worth remembering the potential destruction and looting that is possible when a demonstration gets out of hand, and how many business owners have lost everything to riots. In July 2021, Durban bore the brunt of a civil unrest, with 45 000 businesses out of commission and an estimated R16 billion in stolen stock, as well as damage to infrastructure and equipment.
Preparation and planning
While some riots may last hours, others last days or even weeks. It’s important to find a way to ensure that in addition to protecting your business, you are able to provide for your staff’s basic needs. While companies may have to take it upon themselves to secure their own supplies, some security solutions providers may already have plans in place for this. “Because we are part of the Tsebo Solutions Group, we can offer additional services such as catering for employees who choose to remain on-site during protest action, secure transport for these staff members, and the rapid deployment of cleaning teams to clean up after a strike,” concludes Botha.
Mitigating risk is all about preparation and planning. Bringing in an expert to help put together a plan in case of emergency, or partnering with a specialist security service, can position your business to withstand the unexpected when it arrives, and dramatically increase your chances of returning to business as quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.
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