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Latest News - August 2013

August 26, 2013
Union membership battle should not destabilise mining
Source: The New Age
Irvine Makuyana

Competition for membership among trade unions in the mining sector should not work to the detriment of foreign investment, sustainability and job security, delegates were told at The New Age Business breakfast in Sandton on Monday.

Dozens of delegates at the event heard that government was working towards accelerating the transformation process in mine ownership to make the sector more inclusive of the previously disadvantaged black communities.

But concerns that trade unions were no longer employee-centric dominated the discussions with others asking if unions were a battleground.

Chamber of Mines vice president Mike Teke said: "As employers, we do not push unions away. We also do not say 'we want to work in an environment where there are no unions'."

Teke said when bargaining for wage increases, unions should take three things into account to promote sustainability - "Production levels, current wages and we should also talk about (operational) costs.

"We are also trying to grow mines, create jobs and wealth and to eradicate poverty. If a new union arrives on the scene, who are we to say we do not want to work with that union? As long as the union complies with the law, we'll work with them."

But the general secretary of Trade Union Solidarity, Gideon Du Plessis, said union competition for membership could result in the leaders of labour movements overlooking their core responsibility of mediating on behalf of the workers.

"The monetary benefits play a major role. Take a look at the new union leaders and you will see that the clothes they wear start to change. The cars they drive start to change.

"With all this, the moral compass can get lost. Members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) now need to show force in the wake of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU)," said Du Plessis.

Du Plessis said even though some unions were "one man shows", they had to be accommodated on the bargaining table as the Constitution guarantees freedom of organisation and association.

Teke said that unions should be realistic when they come to the bargaining table as businesses also need to survive.

"We should be realistic about our wage demands. If we are not realistic, we will destroy this industry. We also have the surrounding communities at mines. They also have expectations," Teke added.

Despite constant wage increase demands from the representatives of labour and squabbles of membership, Teke said mining companies need to improve their infrastructure, the bill to which ranges between R100m to R2bn.

Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) director- general Thibedi Ramontja said plans were afoot to ensure that new mineral deposits were identified and reassured South Africans that government is at the forefront of pushing the transformation agenda.

Ramontja said: "We have achieved a lot of transformation in the industry and major achievements continue to be made. In 1987, we had around 800 companies in the mining industry, now we have over 1600. We used to have just over 100 000 employees, but the sector now employs over 500 000, most of them from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.

"The Labour Relations Act is progressive, it's just about implementation. Our tax system is also competitive.'
Ramontja said the local beneficiation strategy, drafted by the DMR, would add more value to minerals while geosciences technology should be utilised to secure another millennium of mining.

"A few people used to say we will never discover new platinum deposits, but a new company has proved them wrong. We need more geoscientific information to back that and government has made meaningful investments in that area.

"We need to ensure that the country will continue striving in mining. The future for mining is good. We see another 500 to 1000 years of mining."


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