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.

Finweek English Edition - - THE WEEK -

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

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