Johannesburg – The entire mining sector basically has to abandon existing wage agreements and start an enormous round of central bargaining negotiations – according to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) plan to restore peace in the sector and protect the role of the unions.
All recognised unions, including AMCU, must be involved, but not the working committees – such as those with which Lonmin is currently negotiating, said NUM general secretary Frans Baleni on Friday.
The platinum industry must speedily set up a central bargaining forum to consider working conditions, regardless of the current wage agreements.
The gold and coal industries’ forum under the auspices of the Chamber of Mines should bring forward next year’s scheduled negotiations as soon as possible.
This strategy was decided upon at a special meeting of the union’s central executive committee on Friday. The negotiations between NUM, AMCU and a committee of the striking workers on the Lonmin strike however yielded little result.
Lonmin’s first offer was unequivocally rejected. The working committee presented the offer to the workers stationed around Wonderkop, but it had a frosty reception. The workers returned to the negotiating table with a “new” demand of R12 499 – R1 less than before.
Lonmin was disappointed at this reaction, but said it remained committed to the unusual. It has now abandoned its earlier insistence that the strike should end before the company is prepared to negotiate.
On Friday the strike – which started at Lonmin on August 10 – also began to ripple outwards. Aquarius Platinum shut down its last active mine, the Kroondal partnership with Anglo American Platinum, for fear of its workers’ safety.
According to Baleni there has also been intimidation at the neighbouring mines of Samancor and Xstrata, as well as at mining contractor Murray & Roberts. These mines are close to Amplats Thembelani, Khuseleka, Siphumelele and Khomanani in Rustenburg, which were brought to a standstill earlier in the week. Gold Fields’ KDC West is also not operating and rumours of intimidation are also in the air.
“Intimidation has reached a terrifying level. We are afraid that there could be a fresh outbreak of violence,” said Baleni.
New wage demands also surfaced at Impala Platinum last week. This year’s wave of strikes started at its Rustenburg mining complex. Following the strike it raised its rock-drillers’ job grade and brought their increases forward.
The workers are now demanding that these concessions should be regarded as an additional increase and that the ordinary annual increase should still be implemented.
“Impala is now getting some of its own medicine,” said Baleni with regard to the group’s concession to workers, which had not been discussed with his union. “Impala broke the rules by acting unilaterally.”
At this point NUM and AMCU are in no position to negotiate on behalf of members and the entire balance of power apparently lies with the working committee.
“NUM cannot respond to Lonmin’s offer as we cannot safety meet with our members to get their reaction.
“If we accept the offer and they reject it, what do we do then?” said Baleni. “This business of workers representing themselves simply does not work. They are much better off with a union.” If a platinum bargaining forum is created and workers don’t trust the existing unions, “a new union must be created”, he said.
On Friday evening the platinum price was $1 710 a fine ounce.
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