Chamber’s wage talk rules have no teeth

2013-07-21 14:00

Surviving gold sector wage negotiation rules now mostly prescribe no personal attacks, not interrupting other speakers, not ‘disruptively’ using cellphones, and not bringing weapons to talks.

A Chamber of Mines proposal for a comprehensive “protocol” on wage negotiations has been completely whittled down to a timid set of basic “house rules”.

City Press has obtained a copy of the original 20-page protocol, tabled for “pre-negotiation negotiations” at the beginning of the month, as well as the far less ambitious house rules that survived the talks and which the parties still cannot agree on.

The original proposal sets out, in great detail, what the chamber, representing all the major gold producers, is afraid of in its current wage talks with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) as well as Solidarity and Uasa.

The deleted clauses include detailed commitments on how to manage strikes; make provision for “priority service” workers who won’t be allowed to strike; and commits all parties to cooperate with the police, security firms and government during the wage talks.

It also made provision for the involvement of government, specifically Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, if any party commits a “material breach” of the rules.

The surviving house rules now mostly prescribe good manners such as making no personal attacks, not interrupting other speakers, not “disruptively” using cellphones, and not bringing weapons to the talks that traditionally take place at the Chamber of Mines’ headquarters in downtown Joburg.

Last Thursday, the chamber announced that the “historic house rules document” was ready and that “all parties have committed to sign” it on Monday.

But on Monday, the chamber held a teleconference explaining that the house rules need some more work and will hopefully be concluded before the bargaining meetings start in earnest next Wednesday.

According to the chamber’s chief negotiator, Dr Elize Strydom, Amcu had arrived on Monday with more recommendations for the final version.

She said they are hopeful that the house rules will be finalised before the actual wage talks begin.

Amcu officially represents 17% of the 120?000 workers whose wages are determined by the gold sector’s bargaining forum.

This year, it was “invited” to take part in the forum, which has long functioned according to a kind of gentleman’s agreement between the mines on one hand, and the NUM and minority unions on the other.

The NUM still has 67% of gold mine workers as members, but will now for the first time share its mandate to negotiating on behalf of the lower rung “category 4 to 9” employees.

The protocol anticipated the very real threat that either Amcu or the NUM might sign a deal while the other pushes for further concessions to upstage the other.

The proposed clause read that “striking unions and their members will not in any manner interfere with employees who have to work because they are engaged in priority services or who have decided not to participate in the strike or whose unions have concluded an agreement regulating the issue in dispute with the employers/Chamber of Mines”.

One potentially contentious clause that has survived in the house rules creates space for issues “that arise at mine level”.

Mine-level sub-agreements would logically exclude Amcu since it is not a recognised union at all the mines represented at the chamber’s bargaining forum.

Among the things that have been removed from the original protocol are a number of clauses on violence, including one that parties “will take responsibility for the conduct of their members”.

Four pages of proposed strike rules were removed.

These include hard-to-enforce provisions such as “only such employees who are members of the union(s) embarking on strike action and who have voluntarily chosen to participate in such strike action will be permitted to do so”.

The protocol also gave the mines the “the right, if necessary in conjunction with the SA Police Service or other entity, to search the hostels or residences if they believe that any activities, including the possession of weapons, pose a potential threat to the safety, health and security of any person, the company or company property”.

The protocol repeats much of what is contained in the framework agreement brokered by Motlanthe and signed by all unions except Amcu on July 3.

Asked about that agreement, Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa on Friday said the union is still collecting a mandate from members to sign it.

Amcu has been holding a series of mass meetings about the agreement and could have an answer tomorrow, he said.

The latest, whittled-down version of the house rules still caused problems for the union because, according to Mathunjwa, “technical stuff sneaked in to give the NUM the edge (sic)”.

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