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(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:-

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 the EPF.

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.

+27 (0) 82 880 5600 • skype kobus.opperman • www.facilitation.co.za • cmt@iafrica.com