A number of lessons were learnt by South Africa’s labour unions, as well as by platinum miner Lonmin, as a result of the events that took place at Marikana last year, Advocate Dali Mpofu stressed at labour law firm Werksmans Attorneys’ labour and employment seminar on Wednesday.
Mpofu, who is representing those who were injured and arrested during the Marikana incident, at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry, said one of the lessons learnt by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was to, in future, not create social distance between themselves and their membership.
This social distance could, over time, create problems, which could cause union members to, again, feel that they have to bypass the union, which is unsupportive of their needs, in order to assert those needs, he warned.
Further, Mpofu stated that the NUM had also learnt that, if it allowed itself to attract the label of a “sweetheart union”, it was likely to lose credibility among its members.
Meanwhile, Mpofu highlighted that the most important lesson learnt by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) was that trust was earned over time.
“Although AMCU was able to benefit from the disgruntled NUM members, who subsequently joined AMCU, there is still an element of distrust from the members towards the union. The level of required trust needs to be fostered by AMCU,” he said.
In addition, AMCU also realised that it would have to ensure that it had the capacity to deal with the growth in membership numbers. “From an employer’s perspective, AMCU will have to ensure that it has a properly represented union that is trustworthy and stable,” noted Mpofu.
Lastly, Mpofu believed that Lonmin had learnt that the role of the State, for example the police, needed to be carefully considered. “How one is going to engage the police is something you have to be careful about, as in the case of the Marikana tragedy,” said Mpofu.
He maintained that the workers felt that there was too much of a partnership between the police and Lonmin, and that workers had felt like it was a situation of us against them, which may have led to their becoming violent.
Another important lesson learnt by Lonmin was to, in future, think about the bigger picture and the snowball effect its actions could create for the rest of the mining industry. Mpofu was referring to the double-digit wage demands experienced throughout the country’s mining sector, which follow those made by Lonmin workers.
Mpofu believed that more profound lessons would be learnt once the Farlam Commission had finalised its findings, but maintained that, in light of all the lessons learnt, the positive outcome of the first commemoration of the Marikana tragedy was that it marked a new epoch in the history of the country – one that has seen the creation of a platform for future positive working relations.
Strikes over pay at South African gold mines have entered their second day with the standoff severely crippling the industry. There have been signs, however, that the union and the mines are considering compromise.
There have been no reports of violence since the strike began on Tuesday, with seven gold mine companies heavily affected. It was revealed on Wednesday two of those – Pan African Resources and Village Main Reef – had agreed to wage increases of between 7.5 and 8.0 percent with their workers at two mines.
It falls far short of the 60 percent hike demanded by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which represents more than 80,000 miners. The NUM stated its demands were open to negotiation, but denied media reports it could go as low as 10 percent.
“We just said we would be willing to ease our demands, but it must be a double-digit increase that is worth the workers’ while,” spokesman Lesiba Seshoka told the South African Press Association.
Joseph Mathunjwa, leader of the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), told AFP: “All AMCU will demand is a living wage.”
The mining companies had previously offered a rise of around 10 percent of the NUM’s initial demands, sparking the strike.
Sign of hope in early negotiation
The early movement by Pan African Resources and Village Main Reef to offer increased wages came as a sign of hope for the Chamber of Mines, which represents industry employers.
“That the producers and the unions can find one another in the interests of preserving these operations indicates our mutual desire to achieve an affordable and sustainable settlement,” Elize Strydom, the chamber’s chief negotiator, said in a statement.
Stoppages have proved common in the nation’s mining industry. South Africa’s production of the world’s gold has shrunk from 68 percent in 1970 to six percent last year, and the industry is experiencing sluggish growth and is rife with unemployment.
A six-week period of labor unrest in 2012 led to the death of 46 people, and Harmony Gold Mining Company chief executive officer Graham Briggs urged the demonstrations to stay violence-free.
“We are encouraged by the responsible and peaceful conduct of employees engaged in the strike, and urge all parties to uphold the law and all agreements,” Briggs said.