Shabangu backs NUM, but calls for union peace

2013-05-26 14:01

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In gold sector, the Cosatu union still calls the shots as Amcu lacks the numbers to contend

The attack on the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is an attack on the entire congress movement, including the ANC, Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu told the union’s central committee meeting in Pretoria on Friday evening.

She nonetheless added her voice to a host of senior leaders in government who were at pains to warn against catastrophic new labour unrest on the mines last week .

“We are calling for a peaceful coexistence of unions in the mining industry. Let freedom of association prevail,” Shabangu told the NUM.

Her speech followed a secretive meeting with the Chamber of Mines on Friday afternoon at which major mining companies’ CEOs as well as Shabangu and Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan reportedly discussed the delicate wage talks that have just begun and on which much of South Africa’s immediate economic prospects depend.

Shabangu afterwards sped to the NUM meeting.

The usually predictable negotiations for gold mines through the Chamber will enter completely new territory this year as the NUM for the first time shares its place at the table with the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu).

Although the minority unions United Association of SA (Uasa) and Solidarity have always been part of the talks, they in effect negotiate on behalf of officials and artisans, respectively.

Negotiating for the bulk of the workforce, the “unskilled” categories four to eight, has previously fallen on the NUM.

According to Seshoka, the NUM will still call the shots in the coming talks after its rival Amcu won several thousand members from it.

Unlike in the platinum industry, the NUM remains the majority union at gold and coal mines.

Amcu will be at the talks as a minority union and will have no power to stall talks, says Seshoka.

They could technically call their own members out on a strike without the NUM, but Seshoka says that would be “pointless” as their membership is not large enough to exert significant pressure on gold companies.

But the NUM’s bravado sits uneasily with the crippling strikes at gold mines last October as well as early this year – strikes the NUM did not call.

At the NUM’s central executive committee meeting, speakers were also lashing out at Amcu.

ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize talked about “newly formed mining unions supported by the ultraleftist groupings” sowing “anarchy” in a clear reference to the union which, although proclaiming itself nonpolitical, is supported to some degree by new formations like the Workers and Socialist Party and the Democratic Left Front.

Trade union federation Cosatu general secretary Zwelimzima Vavi, in his address to the NUM, railed against “Mickey Mouse political parties?.?.?.?stoking dissent and exploiting whatever weaknesses they have identified to mobilise against this union”.

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