WANTING MORE: Thamsanqa Piet Matosa (NUM president, left), Kolekile David Sipunzi (NUM general secretary, right) and Livhuwani Mammburu
(acting NUM spokesperson, above).
The National Union of Mineworkers’ (NUM) excessive demands from Sibanye Stillwater mine may cause more financial distress to an already limping industry.

The union declared a wage dispute with the miner following a stalemate in negotiations held last weekend. The matter will now be decided at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) early next month before a strike could be considered.

NUM is demanding R10500 for lowest paid workers and a 15% increase for the highest paid employees, a R5000 living out allowance and R10000 housing subsidy. Instead, the firm has offered a 5.5% increase for low income category workers who are currently earning R6400, and proposed R750 for higher earners.

The workers further demand 100% medical aid contribution by the company, 35 days for annual leave and 42 days for sick leave and four months of fully paid maternity leave.

NUM spokesperson Livhu- wani Mammburu charged that the feasibility of their demands did not matter, and nor did their financial implications. “We are doing what our members want us to do. We don’t decide what is feasible or not. We are 100% behind our members. We’ve had similar demands elsewhere, and you must remember that negotiations are a give-and-take. We negotiate until our members give us a mandate to sign an agreement.”

Mammburu added that the R6400 salary was an insult. “The company recently bought operations in the US, and proceeds from South Africa are going towards the new operations in a foreign country. Clearly the company can afford to meet our demands.”

Sibanye’s investor relations officer James Wellsted said: “There are various demands from the unions, some of which are impractical. We are unable to discuss the current position now as we are still in negotiations.” He said the company had been struggling financially because of low platinum group metal prices and the stronger rand. In August, the company said 7400 jobs were on the line as it planned to restructure its loss-making Beatrix West and Cooke operations.

Michael Bagraim, a labour lawyer and adviser to the Trade Union Directory, said NUM should rather consider tweaking its strategy and focus on a moratorium on retrenchments and ensure the safekeeping of jobs. He said the union should also focus on getting more sick leave days because of the dangerous working environment. He agreed with its maternity leave demands.

“The mining industry is in a position where it’s slowly and surely collapsing. They are all retrenching desperately and you don’t want to create a situation where it becomes too impossible to mine because of high staffing costs. For once the unions have to think of protecting jobs as opposed to demanding higher and higher. Management would not see a moratorium on retrenchments as an expense and it would give insurance to the workers that they won’t lose their jobs,” said Bagraim.

He said no company would accept the 100% contribution for medical aid. “That is very steep, and medical aid is incredibly expensive, and to demand 100% is going to be unacceptable to any company. Medical aid is rising beyond everybody’s pocket and companies won’t even contribute 50%.”

He added that NUM’s sick leave and annual leave demands could collapse any company.

“If you put those together and then add the holidays, there won’t be time to work. South Africa is the only country in the world that has generous sick and annual leave days in terms of labour laws.”

Rea Molopyane, a labour analyst, supported NUM’s demands and said it was shameful that things like maternity leave were still being fought over. “The Labour Relations Act provides for such things, and the company and union need to meet each other halfway.”