Life is worth more than R12?500

2014-05-19 10:00

After four months of going without salaries since the beginning of the strike that has now turned violent in the platinum belt, miners are going hungry and drowning in accumulating debt in the name of “sacrifice” to realise better wages. But for how long will they bear this sacrifice?

After 16 weeks of no work and no pay, miners are feeling the pinch and, forced by personal circumstances, most will accept the employers’ offers.

I’ve interacted with some of the striking miners who expressed their wish for the strike to end. They are tired of being dependent on already-struggling family members and friends. They want to go back to earning salaries?–?increased or not.

But they cannot differ with the larger group. They joined the crusade for a R12?500 monthly salary, only to go home to face the harsh reality of not earning one. I have been underground and walked the path of a miner and can safely say they deserve much more than their current earnings.

The core of the argument in air-conditioned boardrooms is whether R12?500 is achievable or not.

Mining companies say the demand is impractical, while mining union Amcu believes it is feasible and is sticking to its demand.

But platinum producers have argued, among other things, that R12?500 is way above the inflation rate.

This argument is too big for many ordinary miners to understand.

Unfortunately, the strike’s impact is being felt largely by miners’ families, businesses in mining areas and losses in salaries and profits.

The status quo cannot remain, especially since the strike has turned violent and lives have been lost.

Since 2012, Amcu leader Joseph Mathunjwa has been turned into a demigod of the miners as his union grew across the platinum belt. He rose in prominence to become leader, commanding the respect of his members.

If he can order them to report for duty tomorrow, they will comply without much hesitation.

An option for Mathunjwa is to get mining houses to commit to raising minimum wages to R12?500 within a reasonable period.

Judging from the salaries of executive management, there is no way mining companies cannot afford to do this. But I believe it will be a big step to take and may take some time for them to adjust to.

Mathunjwa is right to say that the time has come for companies to share their wealth by paying their workers better. Negotiating in good faith means that mining bosses must also be transparent.

But at the moment, it is easy to say Mathunjwa and the mine companies are obstructing one another on the road to resolving the strike. One of them is doing something wrong?–?it is either Mathunjwa and his stubbornness or the greed of the companies.

Mathunjwa warned this week that the tragedy of Marikana might repeat itself if things were not handled well. To avoid this, he would do well to consider the plight of his members, who have not been paid for more than three months.

Mining houses also have to put workers’ lives before profits and commit to improving their lives through decent housing and improved salaries.

It is up to Mathunjwa and the mining houses to put an end to the bloodshed.

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