The government and the mining industry have taken the first steps to limit illegal strike action in the platinum sector and to refine wage negotiating processes, both seen to be key factors behind the violence at Lonmin last week.
Meanwhile, the stage is set for possibly more drama today at Lonmin’s troubled Marikana mine where up to 3,000 striking workers have until close of business to abandon their wage strike and return to work.
At a marathon meeting in Johannesburg on Saturday, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu oversaw the setting up of a task team, consisting of the Chamber of Mines, government and labour, to look into the possibility of forming a central bargaining council for the platinum industry.
The lack of central bargaining in the industry is regarded as a source of tension between mining companies and unions and between unions themselves.
Rivalry between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) at mines owned by Impala Platinum and Lonmin has led to violence in the past seven months and was identified as an underlying cause of the attacks that led to the deaths of 10 people at Lonmin near Rustenburg before Thursday’s shootings.
While this attempt to resolve the crisis has been welcomed by the NUM, Amcu was conspicuous by its absence from the 10-hour “stakeholder” meeting that was also attended by the Solidarity and Uasa unions. Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant was present too.
Ms Shabangu said Amcu had not been invited, but she denied the government was being partisan by excluding it.
“We hear about Amcu through the newspapers, we have never engaged with Amcu … it was never our intention to marginalise them,” Ms Shabangu said.
“We thought that through this forum the companies will engage with Amcu, and we will include the union in the discussion process.”
Amcu secretary-general Jeff Mphahlele told Business Day while the union was “disappointed” at being excluded from Saturday’s meeting, it was “willing to … participate”.
Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said in order for the union to take part in the process that began on Saturday it would have to “understand the objectives of the meeting and the reasons why it was excluded given the vicious allegations that were levelled against us”. “I think it’s just a smokescreen,” he said.
The Department of Mineral Resources has mandated the mining industry growth and development task team (Midgett), and the new team, which is yet to be named, to look into labour-related issues in platinum mining.
Midgett was tasked in June to look into interventions to assist the platinum industry, which is weighed down by weak global demand for platinum group metals, and rising operating costs.
The NUM, which recently lambasted “unilateral” pay agreements offered by mining companies to selective employees, welcomed the formation of the task team. The NUM has been pushing for central bargaining in platinum for some time.
“We agreed that the Midgett group will ensure that a task team is formed. That task team should feed, of course, into the work of the commission,” NUM president Senzeni Zokwana said.
Mark Cutifani, vice-president of the Chamber of Mines and CEO of AngloGold Ashanti, said the resolutions adopted at the meeting were “a step in the right direction for the industry”.
Lonmin’s chief financial officer Simon Scott said the company would not be able to recover the 15,000oz in production lost since the strike began last Friday.
In a separate statement, Mr Scott defended the company’s efforts to build “effective labour relations”, but admitted that those efforts had been dealt a blow by Thursday’s shootings.
The company has set up a fund to pay for the education of children whose fathers had died in the violence. A Lonmin media relations officer who declined to be named denied a report in the Sunday Times of London that the company was mulling a $1bn rights issue to recapitalise the Marikana mine.
The Lonmin workers who are still on strike at the mine, most of them rock drill operators, face being dismissed if they do not return to work by the end of today.
Lonmin had placed Marikana under maintenance during the week of the strike. Bernard Mokwena, vice-president for human capital and external affairs, said there were signs that drill operators not part of the strike were starting to return to work at Eastern Platinum, one of the three shafts at Marikana.
He urged the drill operators still on strike to return to work.
Mr Mokwena said “the company will assess the situation by the close of business today, to decide on what steps to take”.
Some workers appeared resolute in their wage demands and are reported to have described the return to work order as “an insult” to their colleagues who were gunned down after police failed to disperse strikers on Thursday.
“Expecting us to go back is like an insult. Many of our friends and colleagues are dead, then they expect us to resume work. Never,” said worker Zachariah Mbewu.
“Some are in prison and hospitals. Tomorrow we are going back to the mountain (protest site), not underground, unless management gives us what we want.”
Others said they were not sure what to do about the ultimatum.
“Because we work as a majority, if the majority goes back to work tomorrow I’m going too,” said miner Vuyisile Mchiza.
The miners downed tools demanding that their salaries be raised from R4,000 to R12,500.
An initial ultimatum was issued last Monday, with the deadline set for Friday. It was extended after the shootings.
Last year, after a similar dispute over labour representation stopped work at its nearby Karee mine, Lonmin fired all 9,000 workers. Then it asked them to reapply for their jobs and most were rehired. Lonmin employs a total of 35,000 people at its operations in SA.
Hundreds of strikers turned out at a rally near the mine on Saturday to see former African National Congress Youth League leader Julius Malema. The expelled youth leader used his visit to the area to call for the resignation of President Jacob Zuma and Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa.
With Sapa and Sapa-AP.
20 August 2012