Unilateral revocation of collective deals triggers mining strife

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The current state of the mining industry in South Africa has been volatile and unstable since 2012. One of the key drivers of this volatility was the unilateral revocation of collective bargaining agreements by the employers in 2012.

Impala Platinum is a case in point where the company made unilateral wage adjustments to miners while excluding other workers. This led to a negative response on the part of those workers who were excluded from the adjustment that ultimately demanded the same treatment from the employer and went on an unprotected strike which was violent to affect their grievances and a trend was set for the whole industry.

As Lonmin followed, it undermined the bargaining process by unilaterally offering an allowance of between R750 to R250 to rock-drill operators outside the bargaining process. In pursuing the tendency of unilateralism both companies used double standards to divide labour.

For example, in 2012 the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was alarmed by gross inconsistencies to the application of disciplinary policies.

At both Lonmin and Implats the NUM members had to apply three days in advance to secure a gathering whereas other trade unions were allowed to gather without being subjected to similar procedures.

All these changes in approach by management sparked and fed into an unstable environment, as well as it created conducive conditions for conflict between unions and among their members. It was not long for rock-drill operators felt undermined and responded in an ugly fashion demanding equal treatment.

The NUM argued through its negotiators such as Eddie Majadibodu that the cause of violence was the unilateral increases made by mine management at both implats and Lonmin mines. In an attempt to quell the fires the NUM sent its negotiating team to Implats and invited the Informal Committee of the Rock Drill Operators to join the negotiations.

After several negotiations and the continuous failure on the part of the rock-drill operators representatives to stick to agreed positions, the NUM was convinced that the rock-drill operators’ representatives were not only part of the problem by their inconsistency like drifting into the employer’s traps which would further divide workers and weaken their course in creating better working conditions and earning better wages.

Thus the platinum debacle ultimately resulted in the tragedy of Marikana in August 2012, as the cumulative effect of collapsed industrial relations and deficient corporate leadership in the platinum belt. This period also marked a phenomenon of sustained attacks on NUM members by a rival union.

In this context, most of the suspects who have been apprehended for acts of murder and are facing prosecution, have been seen enjoying the support of rival unions which tends to confirm our long-held view that the killing of NUM members was not spontaneous but organised to displace it.

We are still watching with keen interest the proceedings in courts today. We are also waiting with baited breath the finalisation of the Marikana Commission, where hopefully the truth will come out.

We have also witnessed the phenomenon of wildcat strikes veering into the gold sector particularly in the mines in Gauteng and the Free State.

NUM stands resolute that the mining bosses should take full responsibility for all the strikes that are spreading in the mining industry.

Implats committed a grave error in offering an 18 percent increase to one category (of miners) to the exclusion of the rest of the workers of Implats and, more seriously, outside the collective bargaining process. The collective bargaining system is currently under serious strain due to employer miscalculations.

Lonmin should have known that bargaining for wages through the church would in the long run render bargaining structures worthless and irrelevant if we could resolve on wages outside appropriate structures. Furthermore, this also had the potential to set a wrong precedent.

We know today that it is not the efforts outside the official bargaining processes that secured a better deal for workers. The R12 500 dream was never realised.

The employer never budged, taking advantage of the divisions and vicious attacks waged against the NUM.

The reality is that it is the NUM that won a 10 percent increase on wages for Lonmin workers and it is not characteristics of us to claim easy victories.

The NUM was fully behind all the legitimate demands of the mineworkers for better pay and improved working conditions in 2012, but did not support acts of violence, damage to property, and condemned the killings of anyone – be they mineworkers, security guards or police.

There are other challenges that the mining industry is currently facing such as the increasing number of informal settlements next to mining areas; high unemployment; the continuous existence of single-sex hostels; the increasing number of the working poor exacerbated by the continuous existence of the apartheid wage gap and tribalism (that) if not curbed will result in large-scale disintegration of the South African society.

Furthermore, the high levels of indebtedness of the workforce and the blacklisting of workers by credit bureaus exacerbate the situation as more workers look for shortcuts to having money and their state of vulnerability is a recipe for more industrial turmoil in the mines.

The failure of mining companies to comply with transformation target is a major problem.

The mining charter and the social labour plans is a standing detriment to the mining industry. Most mining companies are not doing anything to share their wealth with their employees through the Employee Share Ownership Programme (ESOP) to alleviate their financial state.

The NUM still welcomes Kumba Iron Ore’s ESOP which benefited mineworkers as at the end demonstrated by the windfall in November 2011 when workers received between R300 000 and R500 000 per person.

Over 6 000 miners will receive their benefits from the Envision Trust established in 2006 to benefit mineworkers in two phases, November 2011 and November 2016. The NUM welcomes the scheme and appeals to mining companies to take a leaf from the Kumba scheme.

The Chamber of Mines must take full responsibility to push for centralised bargaining forum in the platinum belt to leverage proper interaction between employers and employees.

We also noted that not all stakeholders have signed the framework agreement which is unacceptable and does not assist in the commitment to create stability by all stakeholders. No wonder today the volatile of 2012 threatens to meet us again, perhaps with much more resolve of destabilisation than then, as we head into the national and provincial elections.

The prevalence of intimidation and violence, particularly in the platinum sector, still continues and some culprits get arrested, released on bail, only to commit the same offences and get bail again, and thus are allowed to recycling criminality.

We have called on the Chamber of Mines to investigate some of its members on the role they may be playing in some of these underhand activities wherein leaders of some rival unions are alleged to be paid from their own payrolls.

We call on the employers to play their part in ensuring the following:

n Employment of women and their deployment in middle and senior managerial positions.

n Health and safety standards and environmental issues improved.

n Skills development and employment equity addressed

n Apply consistent and reliable collective bargaining system including job grading, on which much progress was made by the NUM since (the) year 2000.

n Promote job security

The above are few examples of issues the NUM has been tackling and for which much progress has been made.

The transformation agenda must be pursued without failure no matter the trickery visited upon us by our rival or class enemy. We shall win.

Tshimane Montoedi is deputy general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers.


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