NUM plays down 60% wage hike demand

2013-05-26 14:00

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Chamber of Mines seem equally perturbed by claims that the union’s opening demand is for a 60% wage increase.

Although high, the central demands made by the union are significantly lower.

The union is demanding a new minimum basic wage for underground workers of R8?000 and R7?000 for surface workers.

Half the relevant workforce of about 90?000 currently falls in category four, where the basic underground wage is R5?000, but total pay is R8?665 a month if workers qualify for a living-out allowance and various other allowances.

The demand then actually amounts to 35% for the lowest-paid category and lesser percentages for higher job categories. It amounts to practically the same increase for surface workers.

That is similar to the all-in 25% effect of the NUM’s initial demand for a new minimum wage in previous wage talks in 2011.

Other major demands include that rock-drill operators, who have time and again emerged as key organisers in wildcat strikes, move from their current category five to category eight. That would be a 26% increase before the actual wage hikes for the various categories get negotiated.

The NUM also wants category six operators upgraded to category seven – an 11% raise before the year’s actual increase in wages. The opening demand for across-the-board increases is 15% – again similar to 2011’s initial 14% demand.

NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka played down the demands, saying talks always involve a high initial union demand and a low counteroffer from employers before they compromise on something in the middle. “First we say 15%, then they say 8%, then we go to 11% and they go to 9%,” he told City Press.

In the previous round of gold negotiations in 2011, the industry settled for increases of 9% to 10% for the NUM’s constituency, and 8% for the artisans and officials represented by minority unions Uasa and Solidarity.

“Clearly the wage demands being sought by the NUM are an opening negotiating position,” the Chamber of Mines said in response to questions. The mines are still calculating the combined cost of the NUM’s interwoven demands, they added.

“Given the economic crisis facing the gold mining sector, it is important that all stakeholders moderate cost pressures and improve productivity.

These are the only ways in which production can be stabilised to allow the industry to continue to be important for the country.”

The chamber already made wage adjustments in October to break the strikes then raging. At the time, mine bosses indicated they would expect these concessions to be considered when the current wage talks started.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelimzima Vavi last week lashed out against the misrepresentation of wage demands at the NUM’s central executive committee meeting in Pretoria.

Strikes ‘pose a major threat’

Senior government leaders were reading from the same script last week, warning the economy just can’t bear another huge drop in its major export sectors: gold and platinum.

*Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan warned that labour unrest and falling commodity prices threatened yet another bad year for the taxman.

In his budget review this year, Gordhan had already steeled National Treasury for a massive drop in mining taxes and royalties from R22.6?billion to R17.2?billion.

“The current uncertainty in the labour relations environment in mining and other sectors requires concerted action by organised labour, business, civic leaders and government.

“There is no room for complacency here. We are all in this together. If we do not resolve our labour relations challenges, we will all be losers. We will see deteriorating confidence, job losses and business failures,” he said in his budget vote.

*Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant used her department’s budget vote to pre-emptively ­cover her tracks, saying that “to expect the ­minister to become involved in every dispute carries the risk of undermining the very institutions that were set up to do this work and, ­besides, it is not sustainable or feasible”.

Her ministry cannot intervene in every labour dispute because “this defeats the purpose of collective bargaining institutions, which were created in order to free government from becoming involved in workplace issues”.

*President Jacob Zuma used a speech before the National House of Traditional Leaders on Thursday to say “wildcat strikes of the type

happening in the mining industry and other sectors are hardly the way to advance the interests of marginalised sections of our people in a democratic dispensation”.

“We should demand better salaries and working conditions, but we may not wreck the economy.”

*Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus presented mine strikes and “high wage demands in the mining sector in particular” as the major threat to investor confidence, export levels and ultimately South Africa’s credit ratings in her monetary policy briefing.

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