Platinum strikes change the game

2012-10-06 14:31

The spate of violent strikes that brought Lonmin to a standstill for more than a month have forced a mind-set change in the platinum mining sector, which is now trying to create a central bargaining platform for the industry.

Negotiations for a centralised bargaining system started on Friday when a spectrum of stakeholders met to map the way forward for labour relations within the embattled industry.

The creation of a central bargaining forum has been resisted by the industry’s employers for years.

However, it is now seen as a priority.

Strikes have since spread to mines owned by global number one producer Anglo American Platinum (Amplats).

Impala Platinum’s Rustenburg operations also stood idle for six weeks during January and February.

Disparities in wages, high barriers of entry for new labour unions as well as poor living conditions in areas around mining operations have been some of the major sources of dissatisfaction among workers in the platinum industry.

Officials from all the major listed platinum producers operating in South Africa, including Amplats, Impala Platinum, Lonmin, African Rainbow Minerals, Northam Platinum, Aquarius Platinum, Royal Bafokeng Platinum as well as Wesizwe Platinum, were at Friday’s meeting, held at the offices of the Chamber of Mines in Johannesburg.

Trade unions in attendance were the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Solidarity and Uasa.

According to the chamber’s senior executive for industrial relations, Elize Strydom, negotiations would be held over 16 sessions until the end of October and could be extended.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant said the challenge for the platinum industry would be to restore stability and trust in the industry, but with due regard for the causes that led to the strike and the killing of 46 people at Marikana.

“The recent experience in platinum suggests that any centralised bargaining arrangement arrived at for the industry will have to be able to accommodate a broader range of issues and also allow for consultation of non-unionised workers, where they constitute a significant number,” Oliphant said.

“There will be risks associated with any collective bargaining arrangement that is crafted for your sector, but a critical challenge will be to ensure that it is effective in setting minimum conditions for the sector and that it is able to do so in an inclusive way.”

A major bone of contention during negotiations could be the level of representation set for unions to gain access to a centralised structure.

Impala, for instance, has until now only fully recognised a union with majority membership among its workforce.

One of the attendees at Friday’s meeting suggested any union that had recognition at two mines or could prove it had 8?000 or more members, should be admitted to a centralised structure.

Talks facilitator Charles Nupen said any subject was up for discussion. “The opportunity should be taken?.?.?.?to vent or to show displeasure, or anger, or resentment, with the conduct of other parties around the table,” he said.

“This is the time and place and if we get a bit of sweat on the walls as a result, that is part of the process.”

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said the union welcomed the opportunity to take part in the talks, but was sceptical over whether constructive discussions could be held while mines continued to experience violence.

“You cannot be allergic to a process that may lead to a good outcome, but you also have to ask whether we shouldn’t wait for the dust to settle before we start talking,” he said.

 “The first priority should be to try to stabilise the situation.”

NUM general secretary Frans Baleni said the union had been calling for a centralised forum for years.

“If it depends on us, these talks could be over by the end of next week. We are more than ready to engage.”

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