Placating unions ahead of coal wage negotiations
With wage negotiations just months away, roleplayers within the sector fear a stand-off between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Associated Mineworkers and Construction Union.
the consistency of coal supply to Eskom is something of a hot topic, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the progress of talks between the Chamber of Mines and unions, principally the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), regarding this year’s wage negotiations.
That’s because the country’s major coal producers – including Anglo American, Glencore, South32 and Exxaro Resources – are considering leaving the collective bargaining negotiation process, normally convened by the chamber, in favour of one-on-one negotiations.
Coal wage negotiations are due to kick off around May or June ahead of the expiry of the current two-year wage deal, effective July 2015, in which category 4 to 8 workers were awarded an increase of between R750 and R1 000 a month in the first year, and guaranteed increases of 7.5% in the second year.
Motsamai Motlhamme, head of employment relations at the Chamber of Mines, was reluctant to discuss the matter of future wage negotiations. However, he said a meeting with NUM, and other unions, was planned for Friday, 20 January. “In three weeks’ time, we expect the situation will be clearer,” he said.
The reason for the departure in protocol is that smaller coal producers often prove sticking points in negotiations that the larger companies find disruptive. There is also less and less commonality between coal producers in terms of wage outcomes.
This is something of a break from the past. Coal wage negotiations were easier to settle than in the gold and platinum sectors owing to the higher skills level of the workforce, itself a function of the greater mechanisation in the sector.
During the last wage negotiations, however, there was a 10-day strike ahead of the settlement. And labour has tended to be more restive on the coal mines. In April last year, 57 striking workers were arrested during a violent strike over wages at Glencore’s Wonderfontein colliery in Mpumalanga.
“One of the challenges with collective bargaining in the coal sector has been that the different operations now often come from very different positions,” an industry source told finweek. “Wages and benefits are not as homogeneous as they are in the gold sector. The agreements reached are often so very different.”
Writing in BizNews, Solidarity secretary general Gideon du Plessis said coal wage negotiations outside of the chamber would be frowned upon by NUM because it’s still the majority union in the coal sector.
“This development has NUM hot under the collar as the coal negotiations at the chamber constituted a major platform for a show of force by the union, which has become of key importance now that their arch rival, Amcu (Associated Mineworkers and Construction Union), no longer enjoys recognition in the coal sector,” he said.
Amcu has displaced NUM as the main union in South Africa’s platinum sector and has made inroads among NUM’s gold industry membership.
As a result, NUM may react stridently against the chamber’s proposals, which may be a spur to NUM’s own wider political plans to be “more radical” – a strategy hinted at by David Sipunzi, general-secretary of NUM, last year. The notion of a more radical NUM is possibly a response to growing populism elsewhere in the political system, not to mention the fact that it would cast NUM as equally as outspoken a force as Amcu.
Perhaps these political manoeuvrings could lead to strikes later this year when coal industry wage negotiations kick off – hence