THE ENRICHMENT OF DIVERSITY
THE ARIVIA.KOM CASE STUDY
(Extract from a benchmarking report on institutionalised employee participation
systems in South Africa; commissioned by Rand Water and researched
by Kobus Opperman and Felicity Steadman)
arivia.kom is a new state-owned venture created through the merger
of Ariel Technologies (part of Denel), Datavia (Transnet's IT arm) and ESKOM ITS
(ESKOM's Information Technology Services). arivia.kom came into operation in January
2001. The company provides technological services to its three parent companies
and competes for local and international contracts. In the public sector, arivia.kom
is interested in the second fixed-line network. arivia.kom's business is to deliver
IT infrastructure services and business solutions, and to aggressively target e-commerce
opportunities. This includes providing telco networks, smart-card technology, corporate
software offerings and IT outsourcing.
Climate prior to the merger
Despite a number of prior efforts to create a climate conducive to the merger (which
took place in terms of section 197 of the LRA) it was not generally well received
by many employees of the newly formed arivia.kom. Many reported that they were 'forced
to leave behind' a situation of high job security, promising future prospects and
sound benefits, to become part of a company with a significantly higher risk profile
and a completely unknown future.
The commercial viability of the new enterprise was strongly questioned by many employees
and the fact that a number of unions were in dispute with government about this
'privatisation of state assets' did nothing to assist an already complicated situation.
This merger took place against a background of three distinctly different and unintegrated
company cultures, a lack of trust towards senior management and highly adversTahoma
relationship with unions in general. Additional contextual considerations such as
immense insecurities about the unsettled future conditions of service, a fair extent
of polarisation between unionised and non-unionised staff members, as well as inter-union
rivalry between a number of unions exacerbated the situation further.
The overall result was general non-alignment of goals and non-identification with
the company. This was a 'recipe for disaster' from a human resources perspective!
The solution: Employee participation
Senior management's solution was to involve all employees (unionised and non-unionised)
in an inclusive fashion to participate in policy decision-making processes to enhance
the 'quality and transparency of all decisions' as well as to 'democratise' the
workplace in a general sense. Indicating that 'no-one would be worse off', the Chief
Executive Officer made it clear that he was also keen to involve all employees
in the drafting of the new conditions of service and in all future policy decision-making
processes affecting them.
Despite strong initial opposition from some unions a broad framework of company
values, desired organisational culture and the outline of the employee participation
forum were developed in a joint effort by mid-2001. The following diagram represents
the relationship between these.
Externally facilitated by Change Management Facilitation, the process culminated
in the formal, consensual adoption of the constitution of the arivia.kom Employee
Participation Forum (EPF) in August 2001. Provision is made in this constitution
for the following participatory structures:-
- Plenary Forum (EPF)
- Steering Committee
- Task Groups (optional)
- Regional Forums
Both the EPF and its Steering Committee are externally facilitated. Consensus at
the EPF has the same status as a formal decision made by the Chief Executive Officer
and must accordingly be implemented by line management. Although envisaged in its
constitution, regional forums have not been implemented to date. No provision has
yet been made for direct participation by employees either.
Summarised by the following diagramme, the relationship between arivia.kom’s collective
bargaining system and the employee participation forum is defined in detail in the
EPF’s constitution. Specific conflict resolution mechanisms are also in place for
A number of Task Groups have been established to deal with a wide range of issues
and policies, including the company’s employment equity process, its conditions
of service and a range of policies that needed development.
During the first few months following the establishment of the EPF, a large number of
policies were adopted, the company’s policy on Employment Equity being one of the
first. In early March 2002 the new conditions of service were adopted on a 100%
consensual basis. All associated ‘legacy issues’ were also settled at the time,
much to the delight of all stakeholders involved at arivia.kom. Some of the comments
made by the CEO and HR Executive at the time of adoption were:-
‘We need to share our amazing achievement with the rest of the world. They need
to know that it can be done’.
‘It has been a rich, rich experience. When people talk about diversity, this is
what they mean. We have just lived through and experienced the enrichment of diversity’.
By the end of 2003 the system at arivia.kom was still a relatively young one and
a fair amount of further development work was still required.
However, considering that the system had only been in place for a relatively short
time, remarkable successes were achieved by that stage.
Kobus Opperman facilitated the conceptualisation and development
of the employee participation process at arivia.kom. This case
study, based on arivia.kom's circumstances by end 2003, was developed for purposes
of lecturing, communication and discussion, and is not intended as a critique of
the circumstances at arivia.kom.
Copyright © 2014 Change Management Facilitation (Pty) Ltd, Conflict Dynamics & Rand
Water. The authors assert all moral and intellectual rights. No part of this publication
may be reproduced in any format - electronic, photocopied, or otherwise.