Newly appointed Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi is concerned that the law has not made provisions for mechanisms to deal with deadlocks in labour disputes.
This emerged yesterday as he formally bowed out of the government-led mediation process to end the dangerously protracted dispute between platinum houses and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).
Ramatlhodi, who facilitated the talks over the past two weeks, said that had the law provided for a means to break the deadlock, he would have used the instrument.
He explained that he had not abandoned the process by saying his priority was to create a conducive environment for both parties to return to the negotiation table after previous mediation efforts failed.
Ramatlhodi admitted that shaft closures and job cuts were inevitable because of the protracted nature of the strike.
It will be interesting to see whether Ramatlhodi will flex his muscles and try to revoke the mining licences of producers if they decide to close shafts and axe employees.
His withdrawal from the talks means that the platinum houses and Amcu are back to square one as the two parties remain far apart.
Platinum houses are exploring all options and will be telling their employees that they have exhausted financial options in their latest revised offer. Amcu will also speak to its members at branch level about the latest developments.
Indications are that members remain steadfast. After fighting for almost five months for their R12 500 a month demand, turning back without having reached their goal will be tough.
In its 2013 sustainability report, platinum producer Lonmin states that it converted 23 hostel blocks last year.
Some 107 hostel blocks were converted between 2008 and 2013, providing accommodation for 2 439 of its employees. A further 1 171 employees are accommodated in Lonmin homes.
The company appears to have put housing its employees on the top of its agenda since the 2012 Marikana tragedy.
But step back before Marikana. The Bench Marks Foundation, a non-profit, faith-based organisation that monitors corporate performance against international instruments, looked at the platinum producers’ housing commitments.
For 10 years between 2002 and 2012, Lonmin had set a target to build 5 500 houses for its employees living in shacks in shanty towns around Rustenburg. But Bench Marks found not a single one was built. Targets set by Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum also remained on paper, John Capel, the executive director of Bench Marks, said yesterday.
He looked back to 1948, when Anglo American committed itself to build Welkom. By 1966, it was patting itself on the back for constructing a town with decent housing, tarred roads and schools.
Fast forward almost 50 years, and the dynamics have changed. Mining is no longer the same.
Deep-level, labour-intensive operations are on the verge of collapse, industry representatives say. And they can change this only by adopting the Australian model of high-technology opencast mines that require a high level of skills and minimal men to operate machinery.
They are not looking back to fulfil the commitments made decades ago.
But while the conditions have changed, it does not change the fact that in the good years of the platinum industry, companies did not honour their commitments.
Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Dineo Faku and Londiwe Buthelezi.