Third time lucky?

2013-06-16 14:00

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Some of this week’s proposals to bring stability to mining have been attempted before

In a new attempt to restore calm to mining and reassure investors, a number of proposals saw the light of day this week.

These include the fast-tracking of investigating union murders, a new mine crime-combating forum, a re-evaluation of the majoritarian principle enshrined in the Labour Relations Act and a “protocol for verification of union membership”.

These were the provisional “commitments” announced on Friday as government, labour unions and the mining industry launched a new “consultative forum” that will spend the next two weeks hammering out an agreement to create some much-needed stability in the mining sector.

A draft version of the agreement released on Friday shows that it integrates much of the two previous initiatives to do the same thing.

The first was President Jacob Zuma’s “action package” of October 17 that promised a revolution in housing and infrastructure in mining areas.

The second was the “framework of peace and stability in the mining industry” that was signed on February 25.

But the new framework also puts more emphasis on soothing investors and aiding the long-term viability of the mining sector.

It also tentatively suggests new regulation may be on the cards to tackle microlenders.

Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu told Bloomberg at the meeting in Pretoria that the previous accords suffered from a lack of implementation.

In relation to labour relations, government has given provisional commitments to “fast-track resolution of disputes over membership status, verification of membership figures and recognition agreements”.

This is a clear reaction to the ongoing battle at Lonmin where the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu) has displaced the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), but is locked in a dispute with the company over the recognition deal it wants.

Government also promises to “explore various instruments to address any possible unintended constitutional consequences in the application of the majoritarian principle”.

These may include an “instrument in law”, reads the draft.

In practice, the majoritarian principle means any union representing 50% of workers in a workplace can demand recognition thresholds that would apply to other unions. In the past, this led to bargained monopolies at certain mines.

A number of security measures are also proposed in the draft agreement.

Among these is a commitment from government to “ensure that law enforcement agencies act in a manner that is fair, impartial and objective, and that all care is taken to protect life and property”.

The state will also place “adequate and appropriate capacity in the form of detectives and specialist prosecution teams to prosecute cases of violence, intimidation, assault and murder”, and “prioritise the investigation and finalisation of cases arising from lawlessness in and around mining areas, in appropriate designated courts”.

The mines and unions, in turn, might sign a commitment to alert the police whenever there are signs of an imminent strike, be it planned or unplanned.

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