Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi

Johannesburg - The government would work with the mining firms to provide housing for their workers, Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi announced yesterday amid a five-month strike that has crippled the economy.

At the same time, he warned that the possibility of job losses and shaft closures would be inevitable the longer the platinum belt strike continued. He said the labour laws should be amended to make provision for mechanisms that would break any deadlocks.

The government’s proposed delivery of housing in the sector formed an important part of Ramatlhodi’s two-week attempt to resolve the deadlock between the platinum houses and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu)..

“The government is going to assist business to deliver decent housing for the mining employees. As housing units come on line, the allowance will be reduced so companies can meet the R12 500 pay demand.”

He acknowledged the impact of production losses since the strike started in January.

“The question of job losses is what brought the talks to a halt on Friday. Business was saying if they meet the basic wage demand they will look at wholesale dismissals and shutting down shafts.”

He said he hoped that the parties would continue with the Labour Court mediation process, which was stopped to make way for the government-led intervention.

“There is a deficiency in South African law, we don’t have a deadlock mechanism, it’s all voluntary. Parties have to subject themselves to arbitration,” he said.

There were two outstanding issues on Friday, Ramatlhodi said, that bedevilled the talks. The first was: in how many years should the demand be reached? And second: should the living out allowance be included in the package to lift the basic wage to R12 500?

Charmane Russell, the spokeswoman for the mining companies, said the producers were exploring all options.

However, employers had to communicate with their employees that the recent discussions had failed and that the companies had reached the end of what they could offer financially, she said.

“Employers clearly explained to the technical task team that they have exhausted their financial means to resolve the strike, and without more to give, further mediation would not be prudent.”

Jimmy Gama, the national treasurer of Amcu, said that the next step would be for Amcu to continue talks “to see if we can’t reach a deal to end the strike”.

Ramatlhodi said what was required to resolve the impasse was to go back to the mediation facilitated by the Labour Court.

“We hope the parties will go back to court.”

He was speaking at the department’s headquarters in Pretoria, where he announced his formal withdrawal from facilitating the talks to end the deadlock between the employers and Amcu.

About 70 000 members have been on strike at Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin since January 23.

Russell added: “It is premature to talk about potential closures or job losses at this stage. But it is clear that the industry was under pressure before the strike began.” - Business Report