The South African Confederation of Trade Unions (SACOTU) noted with utter shock the events at the Lonmin mine in Marikana last week. Both SACOTU federations, namely the Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) and National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) have had in-depth deliberations over the weekend and agreed to call for stricter regulation to avoid future negative repercussions.
NACTU’s union organising in the mining sector, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) was formed in Mpumalanga, South Africa, in 1998 as a breakaway faction of the COSATU-affiliated National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). As widely reported, AMCU was directly involved in the Marikana massacre.
FEDUSA’s union organising in the mining sector, UASA – The Union represented the Federation at Saturday’s meeting of the Mining Industry Growth and Development Task Team (MIGDETT) and reported back that the main issue that led to the sad state of affairs was the social aspects of the Lonmin employees. The MIDGETT meeting which was chaired by the Minister of Labour, considered the fact that there were serious problems with employees’ living conditions.
The social facets of the matter are strongly tied in with the Mining Charter, which prescribes issues relating to cultural transformation and health and hygiene conditions at living quarters.
Unfortunately AMCU was not part of Saturday’s MIGDETT meeting, due to it not being recognised as part of the Mining Health & Safety Council (MHSC). However, UASA reports that the Minister of Labour was instructed to meet with AMCU today to discuss the collective bargaining issues at hand and seek a resolution to the problem.
Both FEDUSA and NACTU agree that, although the problem clearly started with rivalry between NUM and AMCU, the problem is much wider than that. The core issue at hand is the living conditions of mineworkers. It appears that mineworkers choose to use their “living out allowances” to live in shacks and shantytowns that have sprung up around the mining operation, and that this led to deplorable living conditions.
“We feel that the employer needs to do more in terms of the Mining Charter,” said SACOTU President Koos Bezuidenhout. “It is unacceptable that Lonmin allows small-scale contractors to prove substandard housing to mineworkers who are then forced to live in squalor.”
“As SACOTU we are calling on the Minister [of Labour] and Lonmin to ensure that there is stricter regulation of the payment of living out allowances and the awarding of housing contracts to subcontractors,” Bezuidenhout added.
A further problem that both Federations have continually aired is the decentralised nature of collective bargaining in the platinum mining sector. Whereas gold and coal mining operations are already reaping the benefits of sector-wide collective agreements that foster greater labour peace, the platinum mining sector still bargains at plant level.
“Our Labour Relations Act gave us ways to regulate centralised collective bargaining through structured and orderly bargaining councils. We have been calling for a bargaining council to be established for platinum operations for a long time, and we hope that this shocking event will spur the lagging processes into renewed action. It is important that we create a systematic process to deal with all employment relations matters in the mining sector, from basic labour issues such as recognition, conditions of service and remuneration practice, to the more social aspects such as health, safety and living conditions”, added Bezuidenhout.
SACOTU views the Marikana incident as sub judice and therefore we will avoid commentary on the substantive aspects of the matter. However, we welcome the Presidential Commission of Enquiry and will certainly participate when and where required to do so.
A memorial service will take place at Marikana on Thursday, and both FEDUSA and NACTU will be present to show their respect.
“We again declare our heartfelt sympathies to the families of the workers and police officers who perished in this unnecessary event. Now is the time to take hands and look at finding a sustainable solution with maximum buy-in”, Bezuidenhout concluded.