Reopening wage negotiations illegal, inquiry hears

2014-09-15 12:52
Marikana inquiry (Picture: Sapa)

Marikana inquiry (Picture: Sapa)

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Pretoria - Lonmin was unwilling to reopen wage negotiations in 2012 because it would have been illegal and set the wrong precedent, a senior employee told the Farlam Commission of Inquiry on Monday.

"It would've been illegal for Lonmin unilaterally to consider reopening wage negotiations for the simple reason we'd have to request consent from all the other parties to do so," said Barnard Mokwena, who was executive president of human capital and external affairs at the time of the 2012 strike.

"What precedent would we be setting for the other 20 000 workers? A week later, another 2 000 could come and do the same," he said.

Mokwena said the reopening of wage negotiations on a previous occasion was done through the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and not directly by workers.

He said he was not surprised when Lonmin rock drill operators approached management asking for a wage increase in June 2012

Rock drill operators at Impala had embarked on a strike in January 2012. By that April, their demands had been met with increases of up to 25%.

"You anticipated correctly that what happened at Impala may spread to Lonmin and you called it 'the risk of contagion'," said Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union lawyer Heidi Barnes.

Mokwena agreed.

He said he was not surprised workers had not wanted to negotiate through the NUM, which was the recognised union.

NUM ‘losing touch with members’

In a Lonmin scenario planning document, Mokwena and his colleagues wrote: "The NUM seems to have lost touch with their members and their confidence."

He did not agree that when workers approached Lonmin management in June 2012, they perceived it as the reopening of wage negotiations.

"[Lonmin Karee shaft vice president Michael Gomes] Da Costa conceded that, from the workers' point of view, what was happening was in fact a wage negotiation," said Barnes.

"No, I do not accept that," said Mokwena.

"The Lonmin employees have a rich history of wage negotiations and demands, and I therefore do not agree with the perception that they may have understood this to be negotiations, when in actual fact they'd only had a year into the wage agreement which they'd signed and accepted," he said.

The commission is investigating the deaths of 44 people during unrest near Lonmin's Marikana mine.

Police opened fire on a group of mostly striking mineworkers, killing 34 of them on 16 August 2012. Around 70 people were injured and more than 200 were arrested. Police claimed they were trying to disperse and disarm them.

Ten people, including two policemen and two Lonmin security guards, were killed in the preceding week.

Read more on:    lonmin  |  amcu  |  num  |  pretoria  |  marikana inquiry

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