Wage talks will hot up

2013-04-28 14:00

Unpredictable mining sector expected to give government a much bigger headache

This is already a big year for strikes and the major wage talks scheduled for the mining, motor manufacturing and chemical industries haven’t even begun properly.

At the end of last week, the bus drivers’ strike had dragged on through its first full week with only one operator announcing a minor breakaway deal to get Gautrain shuttles back on the road.

Mega Express, a division of Unitrans, gave the 300 Gautrain bus drivers a 9% increase while transport union Satawu was on Friday still holding out for 13%.

The South African Road Passenger Bargaining Council sets wages for about 103?000 workers, although only 38% of those are unionised. Some major bus lines like Intercape have reported zero stay-aways while others like Putco were crippled.

A full-blown teachers’ strike is now on the cards after teachers’ union Sadtu last week presented President Jacob Zuma with a 21-day ultimatum to meet their mix of labour and political demands.

Sadtu organised well-attended, concurrent marches on the Union Buildings in Pretoria and Parliament in Cape Town to demand implementation of a withdrawn collective agreement to double the pay for Grade 12 examination markers.

It also demands the heads of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and her department’s director-general Bobby Soobrayan.

Government issued a rebuke that made little mention of Sadtu’s actual grievances, but attacked protesters who made demeaning remarks about Motshekga.

The largest private sector bargaining council with talks this year is the Motor Industry Bargaining Council (MIBC), where metal workers’ union Numsa dominates the union side.

The council has taken the unusual step of canvassing non-parties for input – an apparent reaction to a growing number of lawsuits against sectoral wage agreements by slighted non-parties.

The MIBC sets wages for nearly 160?000 workers and is the bedrock of Numsa. It is also the only place where a Cosatu affiliate has used collective bargaining to take on labour brokering instead of lobbying for probably unconstitutional legislative bans.

Banning labour brokers is again on the agenda, along with opening demands for a 20% increase across the board, based on actual wages, and an industry-wide minimum wage of R6?000.

The previous MIBC wage deal in 2011 already banned brokers from petrol stations and limited the use of brokered employees in other workplaces to a maximum of 35%.

It is entirely conceivable that Numsa might win a broker-free sector this year.

The only other significant private sector council negotiating this year is the National Bargaining Council for the Chemical Industry, which is

set to start talks next week.

The sectors involved are fast-moving consumer goods, glass, industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

But the most eagerly anticipated, and feared, talks are those of the gold-mining industry’s bargaining forum in the Chamber of Mines – the first since last year’s strike wave completely rearranged the labour landscape and ushered in an unprecedented movement of worker committees refusing to work through unions.

The handsome increases some of the mining strikes won last year , by bypassing the formal system, will exercise the minds of everyone at the table this year.

It remains to be seen how the gold mines’ long-established semiformal negotiating forum stands up to the new developments. The integration of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) into the forum is crucial after it won thousands of National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) members from several major gold mines. But it is still keeping its distance from the NUM’s old seat of power.

The clock is now ticking with the gold, and concurrent coal, negotiations kicking off in the next few weeks with the tabling of demands from the unions.

The Chamber of Mines is meeting with Amcu again this week to try and arrange its place in the forum, says the chamber’s labour relations head Elize Strydom.

The forum has, since the dawn of democracy, involved three unions broadly representing three bands of worker categories. The NUM, the United Association of SA and Solidarity are not subject to threshold agreements and, effectively, Amcu will have to share NUM’s mandate for the populous lower bands.

For its part, the NUM will have to put up quite a show and win a noticeable agreement if it is to recover its lost membership. The employer side of the table will also be unrecognisable from the last round of talks two years ago.

It used to be AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields and Harmony, but now there will be seven mining companies using the forum, says Strydom.

“The new employers at the forum are mostly there because they bought mines that have thus far had their wages negotiated at the forum.”

Sibanye Gold, which used to be part of Gold Fields, will be there. So will Pan African Resources, which bought Harmony’s Evander mine; and Gold One, which bought Harmony’s Cooke shafts.

Village Main Reef will also be joining the forum.

The plan for a new platinum forum echoing the gold and coal forums at the chamber has still not made any progress. This while most major platinum mining companies will see their standing wage agreements expire this year.

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