Winning the confidence of trade unions
THE chairman and acting managing director of the Post Office, Max Maisela, has had to tread a fine line between making the company competitive and not alienating the unions.
As a former adviser to the then general secretary of Cosatu, Jay Naidoo, the man who as Minister of Posts and Telecommunications is now his boss, it was an emotionally trying period for him, he admits.
"The greatest joy for me was when the minister, myself, the unions and management stood together on the podium and condemned the violation of mail in any form and affirmed our policy of zero tolerance for this," he says.
This was "the beginning of the big, giant turning," he believes, but to get to that point took a lot of hard work.
"There was huge tension between management and unions here when I arrived. But they're now talking to each other and to us, and we no longer have strikes at short notice.
"Black unions were concerned about the conspicuous absence of black people from management positions and the anomalies of different salaries. White unions were concerned about assets.
"Of fundamental importance was that we kept an open door policy, where we sat down with guys to talk about issues, painful as some of those issues have been. In the final analysis we started winning the confidence of those unions. Our success was because we did not pretend we were living in a perfect world, we did not try to sweep things under the table.
"We put matters on the table for discussion which historically South African companies don't want to talk about openly.
"Initially it was a painful experience where we had to win the confidence of unions but, at the same time, tell them straight out they were overstepping the mark on a lot of issues.
"It wasn't easy, but I think now they've begun to understand the issues. But there were accusations that I was turning my backs on my old comrades. I've had to tell them sometimes, hang on, I play a different role in the Post Office. This is a national asset, it belongs to all of us, it doesn't belong to union members.
"My job is to make sure that ultimately we deliver to all the citizens of this country. For us to do this, these are the fundamentals and I will not budge on them. I've told them that's my brief and you'd better understand that. After a while, they understood. We got the message across. And we are beginning to instil dignity back into the Post Office which was fast disappearing after things like the exposure on television of the extent of theft in the Post Office.
"We started talking of people creating a smell of pride in the Post Office, and we've found it beginning to have a serious impact on them."
Maisela and human resources director Vukile Mehana, engaged the unions "in a very constructive manner". "We got a buy-in in terms of understanding that jobs are very important and therefore we need to respect the workplace and what has to be done. I think the unions began to look at the company differently from that point.
"The message came out loud and clear: 'If you don't respect your job, if you don't respect the environment in which you work, you are busy working yourself out of business, and there will be no jobs tomorrow.'
"The jobs can only be sustained by performance and making sure that there is honesty, and ensuring that the public begins to get its confidence in the Post Office back.
"I believe the competition of the market place is going to be very important in helping us to change this huge elephant, into understanding the dynamics of the new world. South Africa is no longer sitting here in isolation, it has become part of the world where there are norms and values which you need to understand for you to survive."