Attract investment or watch mining die, union leader warns state, industry

Union UASA – formerly known as the United Association of South Africa – has warned Parliament's portfolio committee on mineral resources and energy to do everything in its power to make South Africa an attractive investment destination for mining or watch the sector die a slow death.

UASA senior manager Johan van Niekerk was addressing the committee on Tuesday morning as part of the committee's engagements with organised labour. The Federation of Unions of South Africa-affiliated union said it appreciated government’s commitment to making mining a "sunrise industry".

For instance, van Niekerk said, President Cyril Ramaphosa's commitment to a "one-stop-shop" for mining investment needed urgent implementation to make investment and subsequent job creation as expedient as possible.

"The environmental side, water side and the mineral side needs to be in one place, so that a person can come into a friendly environment to invest in South Africa," said van Niekerk.

Van Niekerk said the fall in commodity prices has had a direct impact on mining companies and their employees.

Salary cuts

"Diamond and chrome prices have fallen. Companies need leeway in the wake of falling commodity prices and rising electricity tariffs. Those people are paying more in the winter time, but in an environment of low commodity prices, labour must cut payments outlined in labour agreements.

"Falling commodity prices mean many mine workers must take effective salary cuts of as much as 5%. What more does everyone want from organised labour? I am sitting here among you to say please, sincede, ngiyacela (please help us)," he implored.

He said UASA needed clarity in terms of the Mining Charter contentious "once-empowered-always-empowered" clause, which allows a company to enjoy empowerment status after the exit of a black partner.

He said a lack of clarity on empowerment status of companies leaves the door open for courts deciding empowerment on a case-by-case basis, instead of having clear, fair benchmarks.

Van Niekerk applauded the committee's commitment to holding employers and the department accountable for improving occupational health and safety.

He urged the committee to commit itself to preserving central bargaining systems that give smaller unions a voice and prevents employers from dividing workers.

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