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Rand Water is a public utility corporation that supplies a current daily average of more than 2 800 million litres of water to meet the needs of more than 12 million people centered in the Gauteng metropolitan area. More than 50% of South Africa’s GDP is generated in Rand Water’s area of supply.

Participation, Co-operation and Partnership

Since 1995, Rand Water has chosen participation, co-operation and partnership (PCP) as the most effective way to foster respect, integrity and fairness within the organisation, and create a unified workforce through understanding and accommodating the interests of both management and trade unions when seeking consensus on policy issues.

The PCP system taps into the collective resources, knowledge and skills of all stakeholders in Rand Water and provides a platform where employees participate in making policy decisions that affect staff within Rand Water.

The ‘Old Days’

The industrial relations climate within Rand Water has changed so much since the introduction of the PCP system in 1995 that many staff members will not remember or even know about how adversarial relations between management and the trade unions were in the past. Without going into lengthy detail, the history can be divided into four phases with the first lasting over 80 years from 1903 to 1988.

As was the case throughout South Africa, the first phase was characterised by unilateral decision making by management. Although black members of staff were allowed to join trade unions from 1979 (Wiehahn Commission), there was little change until 1988 when MSFAWU (Municipal, State, Farms and Allied Workers’ Union) called a wildcat strike at three sites and demanded to be recognised. This signified the beginning of the adversarial second phase where management and unions were on opposite sides of the fence with the unions generally using guerrilla warfare tactics and management responding with a power-type approach.

By 1991, Rand Water was beginning to be a copycat of South Africa’s political arena. Unions and management were constantly in conflict and the unions generally refused co-operate or communicate with each other. Separate recognition agreements had to be entered into with the seven unions operating within Rand Water, and the severity of the all-round conflict was brought home after staff members were seen with firearms including AK47’s on Rand Water’s premises.

During this period of volatile relationships between 1988 and 1992, management realised that the old styles could no longer sustain workplace stability and harmony. Between 1992 and the beginning of 1995, management moved towards using an interest-based conflict resolution approach which included information sharing. The industrial relations (IR) function was decentralised and training introduced for conflict resolution, IR procedures and relationship skills. Relationships however remained tense.

By the end of 1994, senior management recognised that the only way forward would be through an integrated participation structure involving trade unions at various levels of governance. This led to Rand Water’s historic breakaway workshop in January 1995 when all seven unions and management gathered together for three days to jointly find the way forward for effective internal stakeholder participation. The result was a landslide victory for both unions and management alike. A statement was issued jointly committing all parties to a new culture based on partnership with every stakeholder, respect and equality of the individual, shared values, transparency, effective communications systems, empowerment, accountability, and the development and use of Rand Water’s human resources to their fullest potential.

The fourth phase and a new era had dawned for Rand Water. It marked the beginning of the PCP process, which was so progressive and unique in South Africa at the time that it included the core principles of the new Labour Relations Act while the draft was still being written and long before it became legislated. Over the next few years, Rand Water’s PCP process became a role model for South African industry as a whole.

What is the PCP system in Rand Water?

PCP in Rand Water stands for participation, co-operation and partnership. It is based on the key principles of joint problem-solving, consultation, fairness, equity, empowerment, accountability, transparency and openness between management and unions on policies and procedures which affect the working lives of staff at Rand Water. It is a system which, for its success, has depended on consensus seeking through collective responsibility, joint problem solving, mutual respect, common goals and shared values.

This gives staff an opportunity to voice opinions about decisions on policy matters that directly affect them, and are an important way of sharing information, giving feedback and developing an understanding of the policies, procedures and practices within Rand Water.

Workplace meetings are compulsory and take place either daily or weekly. They last about 15 minutes and are chaired by a team leader who is either the line manager or supervisor responsible for the performance of the team.

What has PCP achieved since 1995?

At the second workshop held in January 1998, the overwhelming response from both management and unions was that the PCP process had opened doors and enabled better working relationships within Rand Water.

It was felt that the PCP system had brought about increasing tolerance. Barriers had been broken down and were being replaced by more openness and feelings of mutual trust. Joint problem solving had replaced negotiation as the way management and unions interacted with each other; and the flow of information, communication and opinion voicing had given them an advantage when making decisions, smoothing the way for implementing new policies throughout the organisation. In essence, the PCP structures were achieving their objectives and had succeeded in turning the workplace from a highly volatile environment into one that is constructive and productive.

This was confirmed in mid-2002 when Rand Water commissioned research on institutionalised employee participatory systems in South Africa. The researchers found that Rand Water’s PCP system suited the organisation’s needs well and that Rand Water’s PCP system was well on track. Further confirmation to this effect followed in early 2005 when Rand Water and its stakeholders celebrated the 10th anniversary of their PCP process.


A vast number of policies, which, in the past, could have proved highly contentious between management and unions, have achieved consensus through the PCP structures and processes. Some examples are:-

Acclaim for Rand Water’s PCP system

Since its introduction in 1995, Rand Water’s PCP system has been widely acclaimed both locally and abroad. The organisation has been credited with being the first in the country to jointly work out a number of groundbreaking agreements between management and unions.

Essential Services Agreement

Rand Water was the first organisation in South Africa to have its minimum essential services agreement ratified by the Essential Services Committee of the CCMA in 1998. Externally facilitated by Change Management Facilitation and jointly worked out between management and unions, this agreement was hailed throughout the country as a landmark for Rand Water’s PCP structures.

At a function to celebrate this milestone achievement, Dhaya Pillay, the Chairperson of the Essential Services Committee of the CCMA at the time commended the organisation saying, ‘Rand Water embarked on a protracted and carefully planned programme of discussion between management and employees. The investment of time and resources paid off. A more difficult cost to incur is that of giving away fundamental rights. The right to strike is fundamental to trade unionism and effective collective bargaining. The consent by the employees under the leadership of their trade unions to limit this right manifests a level of maturity for which the population of Gauteng must be indebted. The agreement manifests an understanding by the people of Rand Water about effective dispute resolution.’

The effectiveness of the PCP structures were also noticed by the then Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, Kader Asmal, who wrote to Rand Water’s staff and conveyed his appreciation for putting essential services first in their lives.

Code of Conduct in the event of Industrial Action

Flowing from the work achieved when jointly working out the Essential Services Agreement, management and unions again demonstrated their commitment to participation, co-operation and partnership by reaching consensus on a Code of Conduct in the event of industrial action. This is another breakthrough for Rand Water’s PCP structures and demonstrates the sincere intention of all parties to resolve conflict as soon as possible while still maintaining Rand Water’s operations as an essential service.

Disciplinary Code and Grievance Procedure

The Disciplinary Code and Grievance Procedure which was implemented in October 1999 was the first in the country to be jointly developed by both management and unions. Facilitated through the PCP processes and structures, the Code focuses on corrective action and includes addressing poor work performance, transparency in keeping records, increased responsibility for supervisors, alternatives to dismissal and time limitations on grievances. The Grievance Procedure is comprehensive and provides a full grievance hearing to balance the Disciplinary Code.

How does the PCP system fit into Rand Water’s other governing structures?

The PCP structures and processes are in place so that management and unions can reach consensus on matters affecting the working lives of staff at Rand Water. Since the system was introduced in 1995, implementation of new policies and procedures has been much smoother with management no longer having to go through lengthy, time-consuming negotiations to justify and defend new policies. In addition, unions no longer feel almost obliged to exercise their rights to oppose.

Management is the only structure within Rand Water that is empowered to make final decisions on policies and procedures. The PCP structures allow staff to meaningfully influence these decisions by participating in discussions and jointly reaching consensus on policies that best suit the needs of both the organisation and all its staff.

Collective bargaining and dispute resolution forms the other prong of authority within Rand Water. The Central Bargaining Forum is separate from the participatory structures and mainly deals with issues such as salaries, wages, and conditions of service. Should any of these issues not be resolved, they are referred to the Dispute Resolution Committee.

Schematic Representation of Governing Structures at Rand Water

Kobus Opperman spearheaded the conceptualisation and development of the PCP process at Rand Water. This case study, based on Rand Water’s circumstances by around 2002, was developed for purposes of lecturing, communication and discussion, and is not intended as a critique of the circumstances at Rand Water.
Copyright © 2014 Change Management Facilitation (Pty) Ltd & Conflict Dynamics cc. 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