AN overhaul of South Africa’s labour laws would be the first step in preventing a repeat of the violent illegal strikes in the mining sector, Loane Sharp, a labour analyst with Adcorp, said yesterday.
This suggestion comes as platinum producers affiliated to the Chamber of Mines have proposed centralised, as opposed to collective, bargaining instead of each company negotiating wages with unions individually, according to a business daily yesterday.
“The notion of collective bargaining in the PGM [platinum group metals] sector is still talk at this stage, and we have not applied our minds to it as yet,” a Royal Bafokeng Platinum spokesman said.
Sharp said the problem that led to the Marikana tragedy was not isolated, but part of a much bigger problem that had led to the establishment of splinter unions that had no representation rights because labour laws favoured big unions.
Jackie Kelly, the head of research at Andrew Levy and Associates, said centralised bargaining could have long-term benefits, including a uniform wage structure across mines, and “there would not be pay disparities at mine level”.
The problem would be that marginal mines would fall under the same bargaining process as bigger mines.
Leonard Gentle, a director of the International Labour Research and Information Group, said centralised bargaining meant the labour ministry could include both unionised and non-unionised employees in the agreements reached in wage talks.
Yesterday Lonmin management, unions and workers’ representatives continued with negotiations, chaired by the Department of Labour, to find a solution to the crisis at Marikana and to establish a framework for a peace accord.
Lonmin has lost an estimated 2 500 ounces of platinum production a day since the strike began, with increasingly high absenteeism among the 28 000 employees. Yesterday Lonmin reported a 6.6 percent average attendance at its shafts.
The figure dwindled from 23 percent last week, to attendance of 13 percent reported on Monday, 8.8 percent on Tuesday, and 7.7 percent on Wednesday.
Unfortunately, the 3 000 rock drill operators who sparked the strike had no future, Sharp said, as more than half of them would lose their jobs because of the falling platinum price.
“They are not striking workers, they are protesters who are unemployed because the platinum price is under pressure. Rock drill operators are easy to replace because they are semi-skilled. The flare-up at the mountain is likely to be repeated in the mining, public and manufacturing sectors where unionised rates are high, and small splinter unions are not recognised.”
He said splinter unions in these three sectors were to be expected. “Laws that favour big unions need to be changed and the Department of Labour needs to clamp down on unions which are not registered and which do not produce audited financial statements. That will solve the problem.”