‘No deal un­less all unions agree’

CityPress - - Business - DEWALD VAN RENS­BURG dewald.vrens­burg@city­press.co.za

South Africa’s ma­jor min­ing com­pa­nies are putting on a show of unity – vow­ing not to agree to a wage deal un­less all four unions in the sec­tor agree si­mul­ta­ne­ously to the same terms at all their mines.

They made a “fi­nal” of­fer on Thurs­day to which the unions should re­spond by the end of this week.

Sibanye Gold, An­gloGold Ashanti, Har­mony and Evan­der gold mines are look­ing for a ti­dier set­tle­ment than the one in 2013 when the As­so­ci­a­tion of Minework­ers and Con­struc­tion Union (Amcu) re­fused to sign and hung the threat of a strike over many min­ing com­pa­nies’ heads for six months af­ter­wards.

“For each com­pany, all the unions must ac­cept,” said El­ize Stry­dom, lead ne­go­tia­tor for the gold sec­tor at the Cham­ber of Mines.

Har­mony CEO Graham Briggs added: “You can­not have em­ploy­ees earn dif­fer­ently at dif­fer­ent mines ... you can’t have union-by-union deals.”

Neal Frone­man, the CEO of Sibanye, said: “We will con­tinue to ne­go­ti­ate un­til all four unions are on the same page.”

In the 2013 talks, Amcu was neutered be­cause the Na­tional Union of Minework­ers (NUM), with mi­nor­ity unions Sol­i­dar­ity and the United As­so­ci­a­tion of SA, still had an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of work­ers as mem­bers.

It still rep­re­sents 52% of work­ers across all the com­pa­nies, but less than 50% at An­gloGold and Sibanye.

This means the NUM and the mines can­not sign a deal bind­ing all work­ers with­out Amcu.

A split­ting-off of Sibanye, where the NUM is weak­est, from the other com­pa­nies is the only way Amcu can con­ceiv­ably achieve any­thing to what it had at­tempted – and failed – to do in 2013.

The talks have demon­strated how the ef­fects of the wild­cat strikes on plat­inum and gold mines since the be­gin­ning of 2012 have dis­rupted wage bar­gain­ing tra­di­tions.

The CEOs of the gold mines are in­sist­ing it is time to end so-called po­si­tional bar­gain­ing. This is the rit­u­al­is­tic for­mat of most South African wage talks where unions start with ridicu­lously high de­mands and em­ploy­ers start with ridicu­lously low of­fers and they pro­gres­sively “make con­ces­sions” over rounds of talks be­fore fi­nally hag­gling over whether the deal will be for 1% or 2% on top of in­fla­tion, which is usu­ally where it ends up.

This al­lows for “frank” dis­cus­sions that aren’t pos­si­ble when ev­ery­one is in the same room, said Stry­dom.

As with the plat­inum deal last year, the em­pha­sis is on cash in hand at the cost of non-cash ben­e­fits.

The to­tal wage bill of the gold in­dus­try’s per­ma­nent em­ploy­ees was R20.2 bil­lion last year.

Ac­cord­ing to the min­ing com­pa­nies, the deal on the ta­ble pushes that up by R5 bil­lion over three years, which trans­lates into an av­er­age 8% in­crease in the cost of labour for the gold sec­tor ev­ery year.

Another knock-on ef­fect of the plat­inum strike last year seems to be a gut­sier ap­proach to di­rect en­gage­ments with mine work­ers and with­out union me­di­a­tion.

The min­ing com­pa­nies have a “right and obli­ga­tion to in­form them [em­ploy­ees] our­selves”, said Briggs.

In an ob­vi­ous ref­er­ence to the large plat­inum mines that at­tempted to con­vince em­ploy­ees to break last year’s strike with SMSes, Frone­man said: “It is our right to com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly. It is a right many have taken back.”

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