PRETORIA (miningweekly.com) – President Jacob Zuma on Thursday drew the line on wildcat strikes, implicitly declaring unequivocal zero tolerance on future industrial action that is outside of the law.
Announcing a new programme of action for the troubled South African mining sector, President Zuma said that Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and three Cabinet Ministers had been tasked with restoring stability and certainty to the mining sector, which he described as an essential “cornerstone of the South African economy”.
He was emphatic that all future strikes needed to be undertaken within what he described as South Africa’s "excellent" legal framework and the Constitution (see also attached video).
“You cannot allow the unions to engage in wildcat strikes,” he said in response to global news agency Reuters' question on dealing with what was described as "the turf war” between the emerging Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the long-standing National Union of Mineworkers.
Leeway had recently been given to AMCU on the grounds of its inexperience.
“We appreciate, for example, that AMCU may be a new union that is trying to grapple with these issues, and that’s why we are engaging them,” President Zuma explained, adding that the approach of the government was to remain neutral during the current period of union rivalry.
“We’re not taking sides in anything,” the President said, calling on parties to recognise the impact of the industrial relations environment on jobs and development during the upcoming wage negotiations.
“We call for fair and expeditious settlements,” he said of wage negotiations.
He urged business, labour and government to continue to engage constructively.
“Everything we do must be designed to strengthen and stabilise the sector, and ensure that it serves all stakeholders - the investors and owners, workers, government and the broader society,” he told the special briefing session, called to remonstrate against South Africa’s worrying below-par gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of 0.9% for the first quarter of 2013.
The figure indicated the urgent need for the country to strengthen its economic performance and increase the rate of investment.
To make up, growth in the remaining three quarters of 2013 would need to be substantially higher in order to hit the already-lowered 2.7% growth rate projected for the year.
Although the South African economy was among the first to perk up after the 2008 global financial crisis, recovery had not been as strong as needed.
“We need faster growth. Without faster growth we cannot succeed in reducing unemployment, poverty and inequality,” President Zuma harangued.
Against the background of the National Development Plan and New Growth Path calling for 3.5%-plus growth a year to put the economy on the right footing, President Zuma promised that government would redouble its support efforts.
“However, we cannot deliver growth on our own. We need all South Africans to play their part. We must all promote our country in every possible way,” he urged.
The government was working harder to boost performance in the six sectors driving job creation, namely mining, agriculture, tourism, infrastructure development, the green economy and manufacturing.
To do so, the country needed a stable and growing mining industry.
“Mining has been a key feature of this country's economy for more than 130 years.
“It remains the cornerstone of our economy, even though it is now smaller, relative to the size of the overall economy,” he said, adding that it accounted for 18% of GDP taking linkages into account.
It generated 60% of export revenue, was a valuable contributor to corporate taxes and provided jobs for millions of people.
But because the South African economy was intertwined with the global economy, especially Europe, the country’s mining industry had been unavoidably hit by the depressed global economic environment, which had led to substantial commodity price and mineral demand declines.
Mining sector difficulty, in turn, pummelled the wider economy, leading to industrial slowdown.
The wildcat strikes of 2012 battered mining further, with the “tragic and painful” events at Marikana resulting in 40 compatriots losing their lives, which was currently under investigation by the Farlam Judicial Commission of Inquiry.
It was against this background of economic and social difficulties that government had embarked on various initiatives to support the mining industry, culminating in Deputy President Motlanthe being asked to lead interactions with labour and mining companies, assisted by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant and Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu.
Describing the series of interactions that followed as being “fruitful”, President Zuma said Gordhan had been using every available opportunity to reassure foreign and domestic investors of South Africa’s serious commitment to mining and to affirm confidence in South Africa as an investment destination.
“He has been assigned to continue with this task,” the President added.
Oliphant had been tasked with promoting order and stability in the sector and Shabangu would continue to promote certainty and stability.
High on the agenda was the introduction of better living conditions in the mining towns.
On his return from Japan, where he is participating in the fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development, the President would continue to receive reports on progress made in the interactions with mining companies and labour.
“I intend to meet sectoral leaders when I return to take the matters forward,” he promised, urging all South Africans to support government, business and labour in the current processes.