NUM warns Treasury on pensions


Johannesburg - There was a high possibility of strikes and protests across industries if the Treasury did not sufficiently explain why it wanted to introduce mandatory pension preservation, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has warned.

NUM general secretary Frans Baleni said yesterday that the union’s members were unhappy as they believed they would not be in control of their own money.

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NUM general secretary Frans Baleni says the government should educate workers on proposed pension changes. Photo: Matthews BaloyiStriking metalworkers march in Johannesburg. The NUM is warning labour unrest if workers are left behind. Photo: Reuters

“Our members are not happy with the manner it has been introduced. It requires an education [from the government] because they believe their money will be stolen. We might see an unprotected strike where people will be demanding hands off [our money]… We are going to see a united labour against them [Treasury],” he told reporters in Johannesburg yesterday following a high-level union meeting.

Baleni told Business Report that while his union was not opposed to the principle, the government needed to bring workers on board to avoid any chaos related to possible misinformation.

“If they don’t, there will be opportunists who will take advantage and misinform people,” he said.

Although the matter is being discussed at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) in which labour is a member, the NUM believes unions have not been consulted sufficiently.

It said it was also angry because the Treasury had developed timelines to introduce the changes when Nedlac partners had not yet even agreed to the proposals.

The Treasury is unlikely to back off on its proposals as it wants to help ensure that South Africans are not left with nothing once they retire. And while the NUM can accuse the government of not sufficiently educating its citizens on the proposed changes, the same could be said for unions.

The Treasury recently tweaked its proposal on how much access a taxpayer can have to funds once it becomes compulsory to preserve savings.

It had initially suggested that after laws were introduced to prevent the withdrawal of retirement savings before retirement, that a person be allowed one withdrawal a year for each preservation fund. This would apply up to 10 percent of the value of the savings. But now it is proposing one withdrawal per person a year to reduce the number of withdrawals.

Members of pension funds and retirement annuity funds can take up to one-third of their savings as a cash lump sum at retirement. The first R500 000 is tax-free and the remaining two-thirds must be used to buy an annuity.

Following a three-day central committee meeting last week, it also plans on conducting research into a minimum wage for the country.

The government is considering introducing a minimum wage after the ANC told voters on the campaign trail that it would happen. It has said it will need five years to investigate modalities.

Although the NUM did not provide reporters with what figure it wanted as the minimum wage, Baleni said it should be a decent wage.

Earlier this month, Germany introduced a minimum wage of e8.5 an hour, which is about R120. The central committee also discussed companies complying with the Mining Charter. The charter, which was adopted 10 years ago, holds companies to targets that should be achieved by the end of this year.

The government is busy conducting audits of mining companies. Although some of them have already said they would reach the goals, the NUM said its own assessment indicated the opposite.

Baleni said employment equity goals on boards and female representation would not be reached. Also, procurement deals being offered to empowerment firms were not substantial enough and centred on catering and clearing human waste.

He said the union would push the government to withdraw the mining licences of companies that had failed to comply with the charter.

The NUM also wants full compliance with the Construction Charter and for punitive measures to be taken where there is failure to comply.

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