Teba plans new labour empire

2014-09-07 15:00

Teba Limited, the company born out of the 112-year-old migrant labour agency for South Africa’s mines, wants to branch out into other kinds of migrant labour, including farming, construction and the domestic worker sector.

It is even considering a reversal of the previous century’s migrant corridor by sending redundant South African miners to emerging mining districts in places like Mozambique’s Tete province where there are coal developments.

But it is first making a moral case for mine and state funding to tie up the various loose ends left by the migrant labour system, particularly the dysfunctional compensation system for miners with lung diseases.

Teba was sold off by the mines in 2005. It now wants to rearrange what it sees as its unfair relationship with the industry.

“We do the mining industry’s dirty work and feel we have not received the right recognition,” said Teba managing director Graham Herbert. Teba is constantly giving advice “behind the curtains” only to have it ignored or claimed as the ideas of other companies, he said at a briefing to promote Teba’s “rebranding”.

The company is trying to shake off the infamy of having been the prime symbol of the apartheid economic system.

What Teba has, and what the government and the mines need, is a network of branches throughout southern Africa and a database of 350?000 active, and more than 1?million former, mine workers.

The database needs to be digitised and put to use if the shameful backlog in compensation payments to former mine workers has to be eliminated, said Herbert.

Teba is hoping one or both come to the party with the money to let the company do just that.

At stake is about R5?billion owed to thousands of mine workers who had been tested and found to have diseases that entitled them to payouts.

Last week, however, Parliament’s portfolio committee on health received a briefing from the Medical Bureau for Occupational Diseases and the compensation commissioner for occupational diseases that pointed to an ambivalence about how Teba would be involved.

The two entities tasked with compensation for former mine workers with lung diseases told the committee that Teba data was essential, but it had been “sold to the private sector” and this was an impediment.

Herbert claimed the backlog could be solved in two years if Teba was properly resourced and given the job.

Teba also believes it is best placed to be the contractor to do the benefit exams, usually involving chest X-rays, that all former mine workers are entitled to. Again, this would involve mine and state funding.

Teba plans to become the project manager for mining companies’ social and labour plans.

Its larger ambition is to be the department of home affairs’ agent to “regularise” widespread migrancy.

This comes as the department has promised a new “policy framework on economic migrancy”, which is meant to create separate systems for “real” refugees and jobseekers who allegedly abuse that system.

This will mean that Teba offices in the region will become channels between farm, construction, domestic workers and South African employers.

The idea is similar to the contract that international “diplomatic outsourcing” firm VFS scored from the department this year to process all applications for visas.

Teba is majority-owned by a consortium led by former National Union of Mineworkers’ president James Motlatsi after a buyout in 2005.

Before that Teba, known as The Employment Bureau of Africa, belonged to the Chamber of Mines and organised the migrant labour system on a cost recovery basis.

We do the mining industry’s dirty work and feel we have not received the right recognition Graham Herbert

TEBA did not help mines break the strike?–?MD

During the platinum strike, Teba was used by mining companies to communicate with workers who had returned home to wait it out.

But Teba refused to do some of the things the mines asked of it, says Graham Herbert. This included handling the SMS campaigns that Amcu later took to court as a form of direct bargaining that broke the recognition agreements it had with the mines. Teba never encouraged workers to break the strike, he says.

“We are neutral.” The mines have also asked Teba to give workers loans, he adds. Teba has an agency agreement with Ubank and 70?000 of its 35?000 active mine workers have Ubank accounts. Herbert says they also refused to get into that business.

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