JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) - The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and government have called for the reopening and an early review of wage agreements in the mining industry, in an effort to fast-track the normalisation of industrial relations in the troubled sector.
Speaking at a press briefing in Johannesburg on Tuesday, Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi said the NUM had already engaged with the Chamber of Mines (CoM) in September, demanding that the next negotiations on wages be brought forward from the scheduled June 2013.
NUM general secretary Frans Baleni expressed concern that the Marikana mine killings in August, as well as the ongoing violence in the Rustenburg area generally, had shifted the blame from the platinum bosses, whom he said “systematically undermined collective bargaining and promoted division among workers”.
NUM and Cosatu blamed Impala Platinum, with the settlement it reached earlier this year, and the precedent set in resolving the Lonmin dispute, for the illegal strikes that were spreading across the mining sector.
Speaking on Talk Radio 702, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu also said government was concerned that the actions of employers, particularly in the platinum sector, had set an unhelpful precedent in reaching agreements outside formal bargaining processes, which now had to be rectified.
Shabangu continued to call on workers who were engaging in unprotected strikes to return to work and said government remained concerned about the impact that the strikes and the lack of resolution was having on investor confidence.
Baleni also said failure to speedily resolve the issues in the industry would threaten South Africa’s mining industry and hundreds of thousands of jobs. However, he emphasised that the mass dismissal of workers was not the solution, as the threat of being fired escalated the violence in the Rustenburg region, citing the death of five people on Sunday following dismissal warnings by a number of companies.
The NUM and Cosatu would, on Wednesday, embark on reviewing the possibility of implementing a centralised bargaining structure within the platinum sector. Discussions and consultations with key stakeholders would comprise the bargaining issues within the sector, the role that could be played by those involved, the facilitators, how the bargaining could be structured and consolidated and what content should be incorporated.
Meanwhile, Cosatu aimed to establish its own independent commission of inquiry to review the current and historic employment and social conditions of the country’s mineworkers, said Vavi.
The terms of reference, which would cover investigations into what went wrong in the industry, where gaps were and what could be done moving forward, were currently being finalised.
The proposed commission had the support of government, the Department of Mineral Resources, the South African Communist Party, Cosatu and the CoM.
The NUM expected to receive a firm confirmation of support from industry on Wednesday, said Baleni, after which consultations to outline the establishment, aims and funding of the commission would start.
He hoped to have the commission operational before the current Judicial Commission of Inquiry, headed up by former judge Ian Farlam, was complete.
The commission would determine a realistic minimum living wage for miners, and what it comprised. Baleni noted that a living wage went beyond a salary, and would also need to be measured accurately, citing many mining companies incorporation of benefits such as holiday pay, and mentioning AngloGold Ashanti’s programme in which each of their workers’ children received an education bursary.