JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Mining union pioneer Dr James Motlatsi on Thursday proposed a new deal for South Africa's migrant mineworkers.
Speaking to Mining Weekly Online in a video interview, the founding president of the National Union of Mineworkers called on the beleaguered industry to jointly address the problems that were plunging it towards a dangerous tipping point.
The current executive chairperson of TEBA Limited – which serves mines and mineworkers in mining communities, as well as within their rural communities, before, during and after employment – expressed willingness to give of his personal time to play a role in addressing the burning migrant-labour issue, a legacy factor in an industry that directly employs 500 000 people and indirectly sustains the lives of 1.3-million people.
Motlatsi called for consideration to be given to the introduction of a different work arrangement for Southern Africa’s large volume of migrant mineworkers, who do not enjoy the kind of global best practice dispensed in other countries, including fly-in, fly-out arrangements.
The former AngloGold Ashanti deputy chairperson and current Shanduka nonexecutive director, who began his working life as a 40c-a-shift mine labourer, emphasised that the current crisis should not be viewed as either a labour or a management problem, but as an industry problem.
“You can’t do away with migrant labour overnight. The industry needs to address its legacy,” Motlatsi told Mining Weekly Online (also see attached video).
The fly-in, fly-out approach of other countries, notably Australia and Argentina, could not be achieved in South Africa because of the large volume of migrants from scattered domiciles.
“My suggestion is for migrant mineworkers to work for four months and go home for two months,” he said, as opposed to the current system of 11-shift fortnights and 12 holidays a year.
The new work arrangement would have the spinoff of improving the economies of the rural areas and increasing employment opportunities, without increasing the cost to the employer.
At the same time, those mineworkers willing to leave the rural areas and relocate with their rural families to mine accommodation should be accommodated.
Industrial sociologist Gavin Hartford last year placed the migrant labour system at the heart of South Africa’s mining unrest, saying that its punishing yearly work cycle spawned social evils.
The Esop Shop CEO proposed that a new migratory labour model be founded on human dignity and shorter work cycles, within a continuous-operation scenario.
South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy president Dr Gordon Smith, writing in the March edition of the institute journal, pondered how the migrant-labour system – which he said had moved beyond being an industry issue alone and was now part of the fabric of life in South Africa as a whole – could be progressively changed without plunging the rural labour-sending areas into deeper poverty.