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AMCU still a wild card as platinum miners, unions mull collective bargaining
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28th September 2012
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JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Attempts to get hold of Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) representatives to discuss the implementation of centralised bargaining in the platinum industry have been futile during wage negotiations, says Chamber of Mines (CoM) senior executive of employment relations Dr Elize Strydom.

She notes that there are strong indications that the platinum industry will move away from the 50%-plus-one agreement employed by the sector’s mining companies. Historically, platinum companies have preferred to negotiate at company level, while gold and coal companies have preferred centralised bargaining.

“Initially, the ‘winner takes all’ (50%-plus-one) agreement was a good idea, but times have changed. We have freedom of association and with levels of discontent so high at mines because of this agreement, it is time to reassess this negotiation method and I think platinum companies are ready to do that.”

New Impala Platinum (Implats) CEO Terence Goodlace told journalists at Implats’ postpresentation round table that the collective-bargaining model was under discussion.

“We need to get a dispensation going that normalises the situation,” said Goodlace, who, as a former Gold Fields executive, has had first-hand experience of the functioning of the centralised bargaining model.

However, Strydom says getting all stakeholders to the table is the battle. “We have not managed to get AMCU to come to the table and be part of the discussion on centralised bargaining. Getting them on board has been problematic as the union is greatly involved in the Lonmin negotiations and we have not been able to get the union to shift its focus to include the bigger picture – the entire platinum industry.”

Strydom and Department of Labour (DoL) deputy director-general Les Kettledas are tasked with the implementation of centralised engagement in the platinum sector, which was hit by strike action violence, owing to wage disputes, with 45 people killed last month at platinum producer Lonmin’s Marikana mine, near Rustenburg, in the North West province. Striking mineworkers ended the six weeks of unrest at Marikana last Tuesday when they accepted Lonmin’s 22% pay increase and agreed to return to work on September 20.

Earlier this month, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant and Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu engaged platinum-sector CEOs in a discussion and asked them whether they would be able to explore the implement-ation of centralised engagement, to which the Ministers received a positive response.

Subsequently, Strydom and Kettledas were asked to pursue centralised engagement. They have had discussions with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Solidarity and the United Association of South Africa (Uasa), which are all in favour of exploring the negotiation method, says Strydom.

Earlier this month, the NUM called for the urgent establishment of a centralised bargaining forum for the platinum industry at a media briefing in Johannesburg after a briefing by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.

NUM general secretary Frans Baleni said all recognised unions, including AMCU, should be invited to participate in the forum.

Meanwhile, AMCU has called for the verification of its membership at both Impala Platinum, which has awarded a second wage increase since the six-week unprotected strike in February at its Rustenburg platinum mine, and at Lonmin to obtain the 50%-plus-one majority needed to gain control of negotiations.

However, Strydom says, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration has been battling to get AMCU to agree to the verification process.

“That is worrying. They have the majority and only need this to be verified but, for some reason, they are actively placing obstacles in the way of the independent verification process.”

Could this be because mineworkers left the ranks of both AMCU and the NUM as they were dissatisfied with their representation?

“These are very unusual times,” says Strydom of mineworkers negotiating with Lonmin without union representation, adding that this employee grouping will initially have to be included in the centralised engagements, should this negotiation method be employed by the platinum sector, even though centralised engagements usually involve recognised trade unions that are registered with the DoL.

“Therefore, the employee grouping will have to decide whether it will establish its own union or link up with the NUM or AMCU, but we will have to include them in the initial discussions,” she notes.

Lonmin involved members of the employee grouping in negotiations at Marikana, as they said they did not belong to AMCU or the NUM and wanted to speak for themselves.

Marikana strikers’ representative Zolisa Bodlani told Reuters that the workers had asked Lonmin management to promise that they would work with unions to reach the R12 500 basic monthly salary that the mineworkers had originally demanded within two years.

Amendments to Labour Relations Act
Strydom, as the Business Unity South Africa negotiator on the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), has been involved in negotiations on amendments to the Labour Relations Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, which are before Parliament.

These amendments involve the introduction of a balloting process before a strike is implemented, but the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has opposed these changes, with reports that since the Amendment Bill was published, the union has secured a deal with the African National Congress (ANC) to remove the changes during the Parliamentary process.

“We will be very disappointed if a political decision overrides two years of Nedlac negotiations.

“We have managed to agree on the balloting process at Nedlac to ensure that, in future, before workers embark on protected protests, a vote has been taken in secret to determine whether the majority of employees are in favour of a strike,” explains Strydom.

She says asking workers to participate in a strike is a tall order because, in the end, they are the ones who lose their wages – not the Casatu office bearers who call for strike action. “In these times, when you have to sacrifice your wage, at least you ought to be able to have a say without fear of intimidation.”

Fear of intimidation caused platinum major Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) to shut down its operations in Rustenburg this month to protect its employees from outside intimi- dation owing to the labour unrest in the Rustenburg area. Amplats reported that it resumed operations on September 18, but workers failed to report for duty.

“I doubt whether this will ensure that no intimation takes place but we must try our level best to curb it and use all mechanisms available to ensure people decide freely.

“If this amendment is not approved, it will be very disappointing, as we have seen the level of violence that has accompanied strike action and, therefore, feel very strongly that we should not lose the balloting requirement,” adds Strydom.

Another proposed amendment that business feels quite strongly about is picketing.

Currently, picketing is not limited to employees who are aggrieved with their employer – anyone can join, says Strydom, who adds that business feels strongly that picketers should be limited to those employees who are unhappy with their employer.

It is hoped that these amendments will prevent violence and damage to property during a strike, which has not been condoned by South African courts.

Despite three appeals, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) is being held liable for riot damages caused by its members during a march in Cape Town in May 2006. The Constitutional Court upheld the ruling in June.

The removal of exclusive organisational rights given to unions representing a bare majority of workers (50% plus one) is another amendment before Parliament and will provide trade unions that were previously excluded from negotiations, owing to such an agreement, with the opportunity to declare a dispute and have an arbitrator decide on the matter.

“The amendments to the Labour Relations Act before Parliament will make it easier to challenge this practice,” law firm Cheadle, Haysom & Thompson labour lawyer Paul Benjamin told Business Day in August.

Gold and Coal
The tension that exists between the NUM and AMCU does not exist in the gold and coal sectors, says Strydom. Currently, AMCU is not a recognised trade union with regard to the CoM’s collective bargaining system because AMCU’s representation in the gold and coal sectors is not at a level that affords it bargaining power during negotiations in these sectors, explains Strydom.

“They need to be sufficiently representative and normally this involves 30% represent-ation in these sectors. However, we do allow unions that have a lower representation than this to negotiate for historical reasons or if they represent mineworkers who fall under a specific group of people.

“Solidarity and Uasa represent officials, miners and artisans, so not negotiating with them will mean ignoring a specific grouping of employees,” she points out.

Strydom says she does not foresee that the recent degree of worker unrest, which took a great toll on the platinum industry, will take place in the gold and coal sectors as these industries do not employ the 50%-plus-one arrangement. Therefore, the ‘winner takes all’ mentality does not exist.

However, she points out that there are many factors, such as the ANC’s upcoming elective conference in Mangaung being around the corner and the nationalisation debate, influencing the mining industry that make it difficult to determine whether the crisis faced by the platinum industry will spill over into gold and coal.

The two-year wage agreement in the gold and coal industries will only expire at the end of June 2013, says Strydom, who adds that there is talk of tension in the gold sector. Illegal strike action has erupted, however, at gold miner Gold Fields’ KDC West mine, near Carltonville, on the West Rand, owing to miners being unhappy with the NUM branch leadership. They are also seeking equalisation, “which effectively means the miners want the same salaries for the same job categories across all our operations", Gold Fields spokesperson Sven Lunsche tells Mining Weekly.

“The NUM played a critical role in resolving these issues and the employees are back at work. It could be that AMCU is targeting pockets of discontent in the gold industry to organise representation. They have the right to do so, as long as it is according to the rules and the law,” says Strydom.

This may cause further rivalry between the NUM and AMCU, which has been accused of ignoring the rules of the industry and disrespecting existing wage agreements.

“I sincerely hope that the judicial commission of inquiry appointed by President Jacob Zuma to investigate the issues in the mining industry will get to the bottom of it, but there is no doubt that there is interunion rivalry,” states Strydom, who adds that it is difficult to comment on the rivalry as she is more focused on the gold and coal sectors.

She says the rivalry between the two unions will only be resolved once both parties sit around one table and are willing to listen to each other. However, an experienced, independent facilitator, with which both parties are comfortable, will have to be used to guide them towards engagement.

Further, Strydom finds the notion that the NUM is not doing enough for its members interesting, because, on July 1, the union secured a 10% wage increase for Category 3 and Category 4 mineworkers in the gold sector.

“Which other industry can say it achieved this with the consumer price index (CPI) at 5%? For the past decade the NUM has constantly managed to secure wage increases above the CPI.”

Strydom points out that the terms and con- ditions negotiated by the NUM for the platinum industry are more favourable than those negotiated for the gold industry. Rock drillers in the platinum industry earn slightly more than their counterparts who work on gold mines, despite both sectors being labour intensive.

“Therefore, to say that the NUM has not been looking after its members in platinum is not a fair comment.”

At the time of going to print, AMCU was not available for comment.
 

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu

 

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Picture by: Reuters