Mining groups fast losing turf

2012-09-29 18:50

South Africa’s major platinum companies keep talking of collectively saving the sector’s “formal bargaining structures”, but in practice their conflicting actions are simply contributing further to the collapse.

The unprotected mining strikes last week spread further from Rustenburg in North West to Gauteng and are now paralysing close to half of the gold sector.

The gold companies’ major concern is “not to splinter like the platinum industry”, says Gold Fields spokesperson Willie Jacobsz.

“We know what they are doing and they know what we are doing,” he said with reference to the other mining companies.

Gold Fields has interdicts that permit it, like Anglo Platinum, to dismiss the nearly 24 000 strikers at its mines and “is seriously considering” taking this step.

Lonmin remains the only mining company that negotiated with the workers’ committee at its mines, but this week Impala was the second mining giant to reach a practical settlement with the workers who bypassed “formal” structures and, specifically, the National Union of Mineworkers.

This was after Impala tried in vain to get the other mines to make their wages more or less equal “on the same day” and so end the contagious strikes with one blow, said Johan Theron, Implats’ human resources chief. “We did not want to create a problem for the industry by setting an unrealistic precedent.”

However, Lonmin’s settlement with strikers, has ignited the fuse almost everywhere. Since the settlement, Impala is producing about 85% of what it should, Theron added.

Apart from the gold mines, there were also unprotected strikes on Friday among contract workers at the coal mining junior Petmin’s Somkhele colliery in KwaZulu-Natal, as well as at Samancor Chrome’s operations near Mooinooi in North West.

Impala calls its actions last week a “market-related adjustment”, and though this had already been planned before the Lonmin settlement, it puts Impala’s wage levels within “a hair’s breadth” of Lonmin’s, says Theron.

“Only time will tell if this was the right thing to do,” he said after a workers’ committee made demands six weeks ago, which in practice included this year’s wage increase being awarded twice.

The concession clashes with Anglo Platinum, which on Thursday started carrying out one of the nation’s biggest mass dismissals.

Unlike the other two platinum groups, not all its mines are affected, and also not its best mines.

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