NUM calms the gold storm

2013-09-08 14:00

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But Amcu and Chamber of Mines are set to face off over sectorwide settlement that could lead to years of litigation

The stage is set for a power play between the Chamber of Mines and the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu) after the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and its members accepted an 8% wage increase on Friday.

If all the Witwatersrand gold mines manage to resume normal production this weekend, the NUM may have pulled off a model wage strike lasting no longer than three days with no confirmed incidents of violence or intimidation and a tangible hike in the employers’ offer of 6.5% early in the week.

The ball is now in Amcu’s court and centres on three of the nation’s most important gold mines where the union is now dominant.

The Chamber of Mines has indicated the deal with the NUM applies to the whole sector, but Amcu has maintained that the mines where it has the majority are not bound by what the NUM agrees to.

This means a decision to push for a higher settlement than the NUM obtained would almost certainly lead to the courts.

The chamber says that the NUM has 67?000 members in the sector against Amcu’s nearly 20?000.

The Amcu membership is concentrated at AngloGold’s West Wits operations, Sibanye Gold’s Driefontein and Harmony Gold’s Kusasalethu.

For each of the companies, these operations represent their largest assets.

The Amcu mines have not had strikes yet and the union is planning a mass meeting near Carletonville today to decide on their course of action.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa says the membership will have to decide whether or not they will strike.

He said the deal cut with the NUM will be “pushed down our throats” and foresees the chamber taking Amcu to the Labour Court if it refuses the offer.

The chamber would try to extend the settlement to all the mines and launch a lockout if Amcu refuses, he said.

Then they could litigate for two years, he complained.

“That is their plan. They planned it from the beginning,” said Mathunjwa. “It is a joke. They say this is a central bargaining forum, but then they have these side deals.”

By Friday afternoon, NUM-dominated mines of Sibanye Gold had settled, as well as those of AngloGold Ashanti.

It was still uncertain if Harmony, the most vulnerable company with a large number of less profitable mines, had managed to end the strike.

According to Mathunjwa, the chamber had not shown Amcu the offer it made to the NUM and which was eventually settled on.

On Thursday, the union met the chamber’s negotiators, but only received presentations on the so-called gain share element of the old offer, which has been on the table since before the strike.

The deal

The settlement the NUM agreed to seems pretty standard and in line with previous wage rounds.

The two-year deal amounts to 7.5% to 8% for different categories of workers in the first year.

The second year will see an “inflation-linked” increase.

The living-out allowance will increase from R1?640 to R1?820 this year and to R2?000 next year.

Two minor gold companies had earlier cut side deals with the NUM after a day of striking despite the Chamber of Mines from the outset cautioning against it.

Village Main Reef and Pan African Resources both settled for increases of between 7.5% and 8%.

The major companies, however, followed suite with practically the same deal by Friday.

The 8% excludes the so-called gain share plan that the mines had presented in the negotiations, but which was roundly rejected by the unions.

Under current economic conditions, the proposed 1% share in mine profits would have amounted to zero at many operations.

Where to for Numsa?

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) would go on strike tomorrow in the retail motor industry, said the union’s sector coordinator, Elias Kubeka.

The union counts about 80?000 of the sector’s 280?000 workers as members.

At the same time, the three-week strike in the vehicle-manufacturing sector, basically comprising the seven large car factories, was close to a settlement on Friday afternoon, Kubeka told City Press.

But it was entirely possible the one strike would end on Monday morning only for the next one to begin, he said.

The union issued its 48-hour strike notice in the retail motor industry on Thursday before a last round of negotiations that were scheduled to take place. The organisation then pulled out, saying the talks could continue next week, said Kubeka.

This industry spans disparate sectors, from fuel stations to the manufacturers of motor components.

The Numsa strike notice to employers listed the demands. These include a minimum wage of R6?000 per month or R30 per hour “to be achieved by July 1 2016”.

As things stand, the lowest wage in the sector is that of petrol-pump attendants at R10.73 per hour, although other categories have minimums several times that. For employees already earning R30 per hour, Numsa wants an increase of R30 “on actual pay”.

Other far-reaching demands include a final and total ban on labour brokers in the sector, following the 2011 agreement that limited their use and banned labour brokering at petrol stations.

Numsa also got the rest of the sector to agree that broker employees would make up no more than 35% of any workplace’s staff. The country’s largest labour brokers are currently challenging the old agreement in court.

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