Gold talks go to CCMA as Amcu brings up thorny overtime issue

2015-08-26 17:35

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The Chamber of Mines will now meet all four unions in the gold sector at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) after its “final” offer was rejected by almost all of the organised groups. 

Minority union Solidarity this week tried to break ranks and accept the offer. 

However, mining companies are sticking to their demand that all unions agree to the same terms – a strategy aimed at neutralising the potential for either of the major unions pushing for better terms after the other has settled. 

This follows the move by the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu) to come up with what appeared to be the bargaining chip from hell in the previous week. 

The union will challenge the basic structure of work in deep-level gold mines: the 48-hour week that has been institutionalised in different forms since 1917. 

Amcu says the arrangement is a sham because workers generally work about seven additional hours’ overtime a week without being paid overtime rates. 

In the process, the union is capitalising on what it calls unreasonable compromises in working hours that its rival, the National Union of Mineworkers, has agreed to since 2000. 

Amcu’s claim concerns the alleged practice of “disguising” overtime payments on payslips as an allowance called a “risk premium”. At AngloGold Ashanti mines, for which the union has the best information, this premium amounts to three hours’ overtime a week, bringing the normal 45 hours’ work up to the mines’ traditional 48-hour week, says Amcu. 

According to the union’s consulting economist, Dick Forslund, this “premium” is really a way to hide the fact that the mines pay only three hours’ overtime a week when in reality mine workers generally clock 10 hours more than the legal definition of “normal hours”. 

According to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, every hour above normal hours should be paid at 1.5 times the normal rate. 

Using an average of 10 hours as the presumed overtime per worker each week, this led Amcu to conclude that the mines have underpaid overtime of about R10 billion under the wage deal signed in 2013. 

The chamber issued two short statements, one rejecting Amcu’s claims as “spurious” and the other announcing it would now revert to a lower earlier offer as the talks go to the CCMA. 

Responding to City Press’ questions, the chamber disputed almost all Amcu’s overtime arguments and criticised its “reckless promises to employees”. 

There was no risk premium and workers got paid their “authorised” overtime every month, said chamber spokesperson Memory Johnson. 

Paul Stewart, a sociologist at the University of the Witwatersrand who wrote his PhD thesis on labour time in South Africa’s gold mines, says working hours have been just as important as wages in the industry’s fractious, century-long history. 

Local gold mines have clung to the 48-hour working week for decades. Since the 1970s, this has mostly taken the form of the “11-shift fortnight” – a worker works six days one week, then five days the next, with everyone taking Sundays off. 

The Chamber of Mines last month resurrected the old call for fulco (full calendar operations) and conops (continuous operations) mining – meaning 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. 

The chamber has maintained its shift systems by applying to the minister of labour for so-called variations on the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. 

In its 2013 application, the chamber said the system could not run on less than five hours’ overtime a week.

Read more on:    amcu  |  ccma  |  gold mining

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