File picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

JOHANNESBURG - Salary negotiations in the gold sector will resume on Tuesday when the Minerals Council is expected to make a final salary increase offer to trade unions, Solidarity said.

The council had so far been focusing only on category four to eight underground employees, while the tradesmen and other senior miners had received a ridiculous offer of below the inflation rate, ranging from 3.5%(Sibanye-Stillwater), four percent (Village Main Reef), to 4.5% (Harmony and AngloGold Ashanti), Solidarity general secretary Gideon du Plessis said on Sunday.

The present offer to lower-category employees, however, varied from six to 7.2%. 

“If the skilled employees again receive a lower offer than the lower-category employees on Tuesday chances are good that Solidarity’s members will reject it on principle,” Du Plessis said.

Solidarity appreciated that the mining industry, and especially the gold sector, was under pressure, although both Harmony and AngloGold Ashanti had been recording very good figures with the latter expecting a R1.2 billion profit for the six months to the end of June 2018.

The problem, however, was Sibanye-Stillwater, who was "withholding" the other mining houses from making a realistic offer, which could result in involving them in a dispute. 

It was also clear that Sibanye’s position was creating tension among employers. Sibanye’s excessive takeovers now were resulting in its employees as well as the other mining houses being prejudiced by its high burden of debt. 

“Furthermore, mining houses rely on the argument that they are vulnerable because they are price takers and their wage accounts also are very high. This is understandable, because the mining industry is labour-intensive and top management’s salaries form part of overhead costs.

"It is a pity, however, that when it comes to salary increases for skilled employees mining houses try to cut costs here instead of putting up a better fight in areas where they are price takers, such as acting in a more activist manner against Eskom’s power tariffs,” Du Plessis said.

“Solidarity's present mandate from its members was an increase equivalent to the consumer price inflation rate (CPI) plus four percent, because this is the average increase category four to eight employees have been receiving since 2009. Of course, Solidarity will reconsider its position if the Minerals Council on Tuesday should come up with a favourable and equitable offer to skilled employees that will serve as recognition of the contribution made by these employees.

“Stability in labour relations is what is needed in the sector and this can further be promoted by concluding a three-year wage agreement. A kind of premium will have to be paid for this, but in exchange the sector will get three years of stability and uninterrupted production,” Du Plessis said.

The lack of innovation on the part of the council was also a matter of concern. “From the outset, the council should have made a more favourable wage increase offer linked to increased production, productivity, or skills development, but such a pragmatic approach is lacking. Alternatively, a lower offer could have been linked to a moratorium on forced retrenchments and in this way a settlement could have been reached long ago, but such an option also is outside the council’s deep-rooted reactive approach,” Du Plessis said.

“But it is not too late yet for the chief executive officers of the four mining houses in question to be pragmatic and to empower their negotiators with a mandate that can lead to a settlement,” he said.

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African News Agency (ANA)