HomeNewsTensions high as industry meets over Lonmin

Tensions high as industry meets over Lonmin

The face of violence
“’ a Lonmin miner licks
his spear in anticipation
Johannesburg, South Africa — 20 August 2012 – The South African mining industry has formally started with damage control following a week during which countless replays of police officers shooting at mineworkers had the country making global news for all the wrong reasons.

Miningmx reports that the heavyweights from the Chamber of Mines (CoM) and its members, organised labour and the ministries of both mineral resources and labour met here over the weekend to talk about the way forward after the carnage at Lonmin’s Marikana mine had claimed the lives of at least 44 people.

The meeting didn’t only involve platinum players: the likes of Impala PlatinumCEO Terence Goodlace and Lonmin CFO Simon Scott were joined by Graham Briggs and Mark Cutifani, the CEOs of Harmony Gold and AngloGold Ashanti respectively, together with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) general-secretary Frans Baleni, labour minister Mildred Oliphant, minister of mineral resources Susan Shabangu, the whole management team of the CoM, as well as senior officials from the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR).

A formal account of the meeting, given in a press conference invite sent to media half-way through the day’s events, made it sound relatively straightforward and simple:

“Management of Lonmin, the Chamber of Mines and other mining executives gave an account of what challenges they face relating to engaging with labour organisations and employees generally,” it read. “Both Ministers then met with organised labour to get their account and what they perceive as the source of the conflicts.”

One quickly got the sense that it was anything but a straightforward and conclusive discussion when a short and not-too-friendly exchange between the Chamber of Mines’ Vusi Mabena and a group of journalists – much larger than the usual contingent that follows mining-related news – gathered outside the door of the hall where the meeting was taking place. Mabena wanted the press to “move away as far as possible” since the delegates feared they were being overheard.

The director-general of the department of mineral resources, Thibedi Ramontja soon took over from Mabena and with excessive finger-pointing told some photographers where to sod off (only to have the compliment rewarded with having his picture taken).

The details of this little skirmish are relevant because some irritation was starting to build up over the meeting running some two-and-a-half hours over time, partly because the delegates couldn’t agree on the contents of a final press release – a process that was eventually aborted with no initial statement issued.

That the points of consensus reached and decisions made couldn’t find their way into a written statement say much about how many issues were left up in the air when the delegates finally called it a day.

What followed when Shabangu finally took the microphone was the blandest of disclosures on priorities listed and resolutions made. For one, while the meeting centred a lot on Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU)  – NUM’s rival union, which claims to  represent most of the victims in Thursday’s shooting – it was very much a case of talking about the union rather than talking with them. AMCU’s absence – the union was not invited – was justified on the basis of some formal bargaining procedures and statuses in terms of the Labour Relations Act. Oliphant has however committed to prioritise “talks” with AMCU.

“As the DMR we have only heard about AMCU, we’ve never engaged with them,” Shabangu said. “This is about how we move forward, but there never was an intention from us to marginalise them.” Still, what was also said was that the rock drill operators’ demand of a monthly salary of R12,500 would not be entertained as such an arrangement does not form part of the existing wage agreement among recognised unions and employers.

Asked why CEOs from sectors other than platinum attended, Shabangu said the matters dealt with were industry issues that required an industry response. Baleni cut more to the chase, saying there are signals of “hot spots” developing in the gold sector, not entering into more details.

As for Lonmin, trade unions NUM, UASA and Solidarity committed to encourage their workers to get back to work today “’ today’s deadline remains in force.

Among so many uncertainties one got the feeling this was the overriding priority everyone ascribed to: wishing for the situation at Lonmin to return to normal as quickly as possible to show that South Africa remains open for business. “But,” says Miningmx, “these delegates definitely know better than anyone else, that it will take a lot more than a day’s talking to make up for the shocking visuals on how 34 miners came to their end.

Source: Miningmx. For more details, click here.