Cape Town - The National Union of Mineworkers on Friday voiced strong reservations about a Chinese bid to buy insolvent Pamodzi Gold's Orkney mine.
Num's North West secretary Joe Montisetse accused Chinese African Precious Minerals (CAPM) of trying to shirk its responsibilities on salaries and wages to its prospective workforce at the mine.
"The Chinese deal is still problematic for us," he told reporters at a briefing of parties with an interest in the Grootvlei and Orkney saga to Parliament's mineral resources portfolio committee.
Montisetse said CAPM had resisted demands to honour collective labour agreements and to hire its labour from the pool of workers left destitute by the collapse of the mine in the protracted Aurora debacle.
"After a long discussion, they have agreed that our people will get first preference [for jobs]. What is outstanding is an agreement to accept collective agreements," he said.
"Those are the rights that the Chinese are compelling us to waive so that they can start from a clean slate, pay whatever salary they think about to our members and treat them the way they like in terms of safety."
It was announced in August that CAPM would buy the Orkney mine for R150 million and invest a further R525 million.Conditions set
Both Solidarity and Num, who represent some 5300 affected workers, welcomed the deal, but set conditions.
The unions said on Friday they feared their members would stand last in line when the purchase price went to the creditors of Pamodzi Gold, the owner of the mines that went insolvent in 2009.
Aurora Empowerment Systems, led by a grandson of Nelson Mandela
and a nephew of President Jacob Zuma
, then won a bid to buy the mines.
However, De Beers chairman Barend Petersen, a liquidator for Pamodzi, said if the Reserve Bank approved the transfer of CAPM's payment next month, at least a portion of the miners' claims would be paid within weeks.
"In the agreement we have also negotiated that within 30 days of payment of the purchase price the money will flow through to settle outstanding claims on the estate by the workers." Petersen said this concerned outstanding termination benefits to miners retrenched by Pamodzi, but added that liquidators could do nothing about millions of rands owed to destitute workers by Aurora Empowerment Systems.
Aurora was ordered to vacate the operations in May after workers went unpaid and assets were stripped.
The committee repeatedly heard suggestions on Friday that Aurora's political connections had slowed the resolution of the crisis and shielded its directors from prosecution for fraud.
NUM accused the labour department of failing to act on the fact that third party payments, including maintenance and insurance, were deducted from workers' wages by Aurora, but never forwarded to the relevant destinations.
"The department of labour has failed us in this regard because they were unable to press criminal charges against Aurora," Montisetse said.
"Because of this director of Aurora, the department of labour is paralysed to act." Sam Morotoba, a deputy director-general of labour, said Aurora had since July eluded attempts by the department to serve it with a Labour Court order for it to pay workers at Orkney R3.95 million in outstanding wages.
However, it had now scheduled a meeting for November 1 with the provisional liquidators who were appointed this week, and would enforce payment as part of a settlement agreement.
"We scheduled a meeting with new liquidator of Aurora... We will then serve them with a court order." Solidarity's Gideon du Plessis told MPs there was clear evidence that Aurora had "never had any intention to mine" at Orkney, in the North West or Grootvlei, located in Springs, Gauteng.
Instead, he said, it merely enriched its directors and consultants and in the process ruined labourers' lives and tarnished the local mining industry's reputation.
Du Plessis said concerned foreign investors saw it as a case of "institutionalised corruption".
One company had shifted funds that had been earmarked for South African operations to South America as a result, he said.