Beleaguered platinum industry launches new dispensation bid

5th October 2012 By: Martin Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – The co-crafting of a new dispensation for the beleaguered platinum sector is under way nder professional facilitation.

The sector has met over several days to launch a framework to return the industry to stability and set it back on a course of sustainability.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant inaugurated the co-crafting effort that StratAlign executive chairperson Charles Nupen, Tokiso Dispute Settlement director Meshack Ravuku and conflict resolution lawyer Peter Harris are facilitating.

The parties, made up of business, government and adversarial labour, are discussing five themes that have emerged from the pre-launch discussions.

Journalists have bee excluded from the  proceedings.

Around the table at the launch, which was open to the media, were the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the smaller but high-profile Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), as well as representatives from Solidarity and the United Association of South Africa.

Platinum companies represented included Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum, Lonmin, Northam, Aquarius, African Rainbow Minerals, Xstrata and Wesizwe.

Harris told the launch meeting that part of the proposed process – which the parties could still opt to reject – was for them to take the opportunity to “show their displeasure, anger or resentment with the conduct of other parties around the table …this is the time and place”, even if it meant getting “a little bit of sweat on the walls”.

“There are going to be some very robust and very tough discussions. We’re not asking you to hold back," said Harris.

Nupen said, however, that, while he would expect nothing less than robust engagement from the mining industry, he hoped that the approach of the parties would be one of joint commitment towards the co-crafting of a new dispensation for the platinum industry.

The first of the five themes on the agenda is the creation of a long-lasting, prosperous and sustainable platinum industry.

The second centres on the replacement of the current decentralised company-level bargaining arrangement with centralised bargaining.

The third theme of wages will take into account the fact that thousands of mineworkers are still on strike for higher pay.

The fourth theme will be to arrive at a set of agreements to restore stability and the final theme will be on the need to deal with socioeconomic deficits in informal settlements within the platinum belt.

It is proposed that the process be bound by the principle of “sufficient consensus” – a weight of opinion that is sufficient to advance a project towards its ends – rather than “absolute consensus”.

Because the discussions present an opportunity for the industry potentially to create an entirely new dispensation for the platinum sector, company CEOs and union general secretaries are expected to commit their time to the discussions.

The Labour Minister opened the proceedings by expressing concern about ongoing strike action being outside of South Africa’s labour relations dispensation and urged that the collective bargaining arrangements arrived at also allowed for consultation with groups that constituted a significant number of workers.

The critical challenge would be to ensure that any central bargaining arrangement arrived at remained inclusive.

Oliphant also made a special appeal that the agreements arrived at be respected by all.

GOLD FRAMEWORK

The CoM, which facilitated the platinum industry meeting, also provided the venue for meetings the day before of gold companies and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), as well as a separate meeting of the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Communist Party (SACP), NUM and CoM.

NUM, Cosatu and CoM's gold member top-brass met on Thursday as part of ongoing efforts to bring about a lasting solution to the ongoing unprotected strikes by workers in the gold mines.

As with platinum, the gold forum also agreed on a framework to guide the discussions with unions.

The framework sets out to protect the legitimacy of collective bargaining and existing wage agreements and be guided by the difficult competitive position of the gold mining industry, including the need to ensure sustainability and jobs retention.

The gold forum committed to reviewing the entry-level wages in a job re-group exercise before the end of October.

The framework takes in Cosatu’s call for a commission of inquiry into the working and living conditions in the mining industry, underpinned by independent verification.

The parties also reached agreement to probe working arrangements that improve gold mining’s competitive position, with associated profit share agreements for employees.

The framework is expected to form a basis for a return to work by striking workers.

The meeting of the ANC, the SACP, NUM and the CoM agreed that unprotected and unlawful strikes affected the country, the economy and workers negatively and resolved that business, labour and the ANC work together to find lasting solutions to the problems besetting the industry.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said that much more needed to be done to improve the socioeconomic conditions of mineworkers and the surrounding communities through measures including improving the accommodation facilities of workers and working with local government to develop near-mine community infrastructure.

In an obvious reference to AMCU, the ANC expressed a view that workers should be represented by any union of their choice, and that employers should not have a say or preference in which unions they allowed on their premises.

Unions must be allowed to recruit and operate within the existing legislative environment and there was ackowledgement that the weakening of organised unions would have long-term implications for the economy.

All parties agreed that intimidation and violence had no place in South African society and labour relations.

The parties were unanimous in condemning violence and intimidation at the work place and in society as a whole.

It was also acknowledged that various factors could contribute to creating fertile conditions for violence and intimidation and that all parties would contribute to eliminating the potential for the recurrence of violence and intimidation.

The parties highlighted the dangers of deviating from the collective bargaining system and of collective agreements in creating uncertainty and the potential for further 'wildcat' strikes in the industry and economy.

There was acknowledgement that the police had a role to play in maintaining law and order, but that labour relations should never be conducted in an overly policed environment.

The view was expressed that the police should get involved only when illegal actions were being perpetrated in the name of wage or employment negotiations.