The SA Chamber of Mines and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) were meeting on Friday to discuss bringing forward the central bargaining process on wage negotiations in the gold and coal sectors even though the current national agreements still have some months to go.
This was prompted by the fear that the huge wage hike at Lonmin Marikana mine in North West, might spur copycat unprotected strikes for better wages in the gold and coal sectors, as has happened in Goldfield’s Driefontein mine in Carletonville last week, and AngloGold Ashanti’s Kopang mine on Friday.
In his response to the wage settlements of up to 22 percent at Marikana, Frans Baleni, the general secretary of the NUM, said: “The normal bargaining processes have been compromised. It does suggest that unprotected action, an element of anarchy, can be easily rewarded. People can do certain wrong things with impunity, and that means it can roll over to other operations.”
Lonmin said on Thursday the company and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration were in agreement that negotiations should take place within the bargaining framework and all discussions take place with the co-operation and support of the partners in the bargaining forum.
Simon Scott, the acting chief executive, said Lonmin had explained to the banks that it could breach some of the conditions because the situation it found itself was anamolous.
For instance, Lonmin has no recognition agreement with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) at Marikana, but out of desperation the union was allowed to sign the amended wage deal.
The platinum sector will be faced with the problems of individual unlawful strikes as long as centralised bargaining – under the auspices of the chamber – is not in place.
Following the conclusion of the strike, Lonmin said: “[The] government, unions and mining companies need to work together to ensure that bargaining arrangements are adhered to by all parties. As part of this task, Lonmin welcomes the opening of a conversation on centralised bargaining and pledges to be a full participant in that conversation.”
Only the NUM is a recognised union at Marikana for collective bargaining purposes.
Amcu has been eating into the NUM membership in the platinum belt, particularly in Marikana during the wildcat strike, where the NUM was denounced by its members for being cosy with mine owners and failing to negotiate a better wage settlement.
Although the NUM is under siege from Amcu, Baleni did not even mention the rival union by name in his secretarial report to the NUM congress in March.
He said: “We are receiving more threats from smaller rival unions, mostly where we have internal leadership problems and weak branches. We have conducted research and found that only one small rival union is increasingly complementing its smaller size with militant, chaotic, reckless and violent recruitment campaigns.”
It is notable that within the last two weeks, particularly during Cosatu’s congress, the rhetoric against Amcu has softened.
In his closing address at the national congress, Sdumo Dlamini, the Cosatu president, said workers who had left the labour federation’s affiliates to start splinter groups must come “home”.
“We call on those workers who, out of anger, left to join other unions. Come back and and raise your issues inside the organisation. We will address them,” he said.
Earlier, Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu general secretary, had made a similar call, saying workers were being misled by splinter unions.
“Disgruntled leaders who have fallen foul of organisational discipline are mobilising support, using populist tactics and exploiting our organisational weakness,” he said.
The waning popularity of the NUM could not have been more visibly demonstrated than when, on Wednesday, Vavi had to leave the Cosatu national congress to deal with the strike at Gold Fields, where 15 000 workers had embarked on unprotected industrial action.
Gold Fields had obtained an interdict against the striking miners and was threatening to implement it by dismissing them.
It was the same in February, when Vavi had to walk the tightrope at Impala Platinum’s (Implat) Rustenburg mine, urging 2 000 workers to return to work, while in the same breath, castigating management for starting the fire with discriminatory bonus awards.
The workers were so confident of Vavi’s ability to find a settlement with Implats that they booed down Senzeni Zo-kwana, the NUM president, insisting on hearing only Vavi.
In Marikana, several of the workers who took part in the wildcat strike were members of the NUM, who said the union had abandoned them.
At the beginning of this month, Lonmin signed a peace accord with unions, with the notable exclusion of Amcu.
Dlamini said Amcu was there during the signing but did not want to take part.