Hard times in the economy have led many companies with loading and hauling capability to offer their services to open cast mines as contractors; this trend has created a niche market for some players, but it does require registration with the relevant bargaining council.

“Load and haul work on mines is essentially a civil engineering activity,” says Lindie Fourie, operations manager at the Bargaining Council for the Civil Engineering Industry (BCCEI). “This means that – to remain legally compliant – companies offering these services to mines must register as a member of the BCCEI.”

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN MINING REVIEW AFRICA ISSUE 2, 2021
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Fourie highlights that a range of tasks undertaken by contractors on mines will obligate them to become members and to comply with the various requirements of the BCCEI. According to the scope of the BCCEI – as determined by the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) – these activities include the “loading, hauling and dumping of mineralised and/or waste material to waste dumps or processing plant feed (ROM pad) stockpiles”.

Other activities within the scope include excavations, bulk earthworks, topsoil stripping, drilling, blasting, preparation of bench areas, and the construction and maintenance of access and haul roads.

“Contractors who are providing mines with services relating to dust suppression of loading areas, haul roads and dumping areas also fall under the BCCEI,” says Fourie, “as do those companies doing rehabilitation of earthwork areas or waste dumps, topsoil spreading, hydro-seeding and watering.”

Service providers

She highlights, however, that these conditions do not apply to companies who have a direct financial interest in the value of the commodities being mined. Rather, the BCCEI registration is only required for those vendors who sell their services to a mine for an agreed rate, which is not linked to the value of what is actually mined during these activities.

“Usually, the contractor is engaged by the mine to move material and they are paid a fixed monthly fee, or according to the tonnage of what they move,” she says. “The contractor is not concerned with the grade or revenues gained from the material itself.”

She emphasises that the BCCEI is a statutory body created in terms of the Labour Relations Act (LRA), so companies who fall into the civil engineering sector cannot choose whether or not to register; registration is, in fact, compulsory.

Strategic role

“Bargaining councils play a strategic role in the country’s economy, through the co-regulation of stable and productive employment relations,” she says. “As an industry-based forum of organised business and labour, we help to regulate employment conditions and labour relations in the civil engineering industry. The importance of this task makes it vital for everyone in the sector to actively participate in this forum.”

She says the BCCEI provides the necessary administrative infrastructure and technical expertise to ensure effective collective bargaining, industry compliance and dispute resolution.

“There are important benefits to be gained – for both employers and employees – from the centralised bargaining model,” she says. “Perhaps most importantly, the process creates a more even playing field for companies, so that those who provide decent wages and benefits to employees are not under-cut in tenders by competitors who exploit their workers.”

Most small companies do not have the infrastructure and expertise to engage in lengthy and complex negotiations on the terms of remuneration, for instance. The skilled and experienced representatives of the parties to the BCCEI are able to provide this service, and to arrive at terms which are mutually acceptable to employers and employees.

“This in turn creates a more stable working environment for everyone, so that civil engineering projects can proceed smoothly without unexpected stoppages or strikes arising from issues governed by the collective agreements ,” she says.

Support and advice

For companies who are not sure whether they fall into the jurisdiction of the BCCEI, there are designated agents from the organisation who are available for information and advice, says Fourie. Through their daily work, these agents are familiar with the civil engineering industry so can provide clear guidance on the requirements for membership.

“They can also assist companies with the registration and advise them of the other services available,” she says. “These include our highly professional dispute resolution services for which we are accredited by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).”

There is also an industry retirement benefit fund, medical aid and funeral benefits, although these are not administered by the BCCEI.

These designated agents also help to communicate to employees the benefits of central bargaining, which usually achieves a more desirable outcome than plant-level negotiations. She re-emphasises that two of the main purposes of the LRA – promoting orderly collective bargaining and collective bargaining at a sectoral level – are enabled by the BCCEI. Through the BCCEI, employer and employee representatives can negotiate conditions of employment and other benefits unique to the civil engineering industry.

“This is where the real value of the BCCEI lies, and through our designated agents we ensure that those collective agreements are enforced by everyone in the industry,” says Fourie.