Benefits kept for a handful

2011-10-22 10:40

There seems to be agreement that the South African mining industry is run by arrogant bosses with no intention of transforming the multi-trillion rands industry they are in charge of.

The captains of this industry are hell-bent on keeping it as exclusive as possible for the benefit of a handful, and they actually have brought the nationalisation debate upon themselves.

This was evident in the arrogance the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) witnessed this week at Xstrata PLC’s South African operations.

Xstrata South Africa had come forward with what promised to be a step in the right direction by proposing an employee share ownership programme.

This is regarded by the union as positive because it seeks to alter the exclusive nature of the industry – albeit in a small way – by ensuring that mineworkers get a taste of the fruits of their hard work.

Xstrata had said that 3% of its annual profits would be awarded to employees as dividends on the basis of the grades.

The NUM’s view on the other hand was that all employees should share equally the 3% of the annual profits as dividends.

In a move that infuriated the union, one of Xstrata’s local executives argued that the company would not be prepared to share its wealth equally among all its workers, particularly with the “black unskilled and uneducated workers”.

This insult – which reminds many of us of the pain of apartheid and the deaths of many people in gallows outside and inside the country – made the NUM think twice.

What Xstrata intended to do was not a favour for the union or its members, but what is required by the law of the land and the mining charter.

Of course Xstrata and its ilk failed to meet the requirements of the previous mining charter, and the state and unions had to come up with another set of targets.

Xstrata has since withdrawn its so-called employee share ownership programme from which, by the way, workers were going to benefit a meagre R900 a year.

Its argument is that the NUM jumped the gun by going on strike, refusing to listen to their plea to suspend the strike when a solution is being sought.

But the NUM did not begin by going on strike – there were processes.

First, the union discussed internally its reservations about the scheme and when all else failed, it declared a dispute internally.

Processes unfolded until all parties satisfied themselves that there was no solution.

The matter was then referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration where a commissioner presided over conciliation.

The parties still could not agree and a certificate to strike was issued. The whole process took many months and thus the NUM did not understand why it should give such an errant company more time.

The NUM made it clear that the gloves are now formally off and that it will escalate the strike at Xstrata by involving even those who went to work.

It is inconceivable how Xstrata can be allowed to insult black workers and proceed to insult even the workers who did not strike by withdrawing what they see as a favour.

What is deafening is the silence of the Chamber of Mines throughout the whole saga.

The NUM has appealed to the Department of Mineral Resources to withdraw Xstrata’s mining licence and award it to more deserving applicants.

» Lesiba Seshoka is national spokesperson of the National Union of Mineworkers

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