LONMIN on Monday confirmed at the Farlam inquiry that it had spoken with rock-drill operators about wages — outside of the established collective bargaining structures on the mine.
The statement of Karee mine’s vice-president, Michael da Costa, parts of which were read to the commission, was significant because the president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), Joseph Mathunjwa, last week criticised the company for negotiating with workers outside structures and said this had set a precedent, which the striking workers then relied on when they tried to negotiate further.
The statement also cast doubt over Lonmin’s contention throughout Mr Mathunjwa’s evidence that its attitude to the striking workers was consistently that it would not bargain outside trade union structures — something Mr Mathunjwa said on Monday was untrue.
Lonmin’s counsel, Schalk Burger SC, ended his cross-examination on Monday by putting the versions of the company’s senior management to Mr Mathunjwa.
But he also read to the commission parts of Mr da Costa’s statement, explaining why he had communicated directly with the rock-drill operators at Karee mine.
Mr da Costa said he spoke to the rock-drill operators because their request for higher wages appeared to be confined to those miners working at Karee and that their delegation had "specifically requested me not to involve the trade unions".
The delegation also seemed to have the support of a majority of the rock-drill operators at Karee and he knew Lonmin was paying a lower wage to rock-drill operators than those at Impala Platinum (Implats) and Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) were getting.
Finally, after the Karee strike in May last year, Lonmin had implemented a strategy for management to communicate directly with workers where possible, said Mr da Costa’s statement.
"Since properly trained and competent RDOs (rock-drill operators) are scarce within the platinum mining industry, I deemed it prudent to give careful consideration to the RDOs’ request and therefore escalated this matter to exco on June 28 2012," said Mr Da Costa.
Mr Burger said Lonmin would later argue that the R700 or R750 that the rock-drill operators had received as a result of the interaction was not outside the collective bargaining agreement in place at the time. Instead the collective bargaining agreement in place allowed for it.
But Mr Mathunjwa said that, in his experience as a trade unionist, whenever management talked to workers, the recognised trade union was called in, informed of the process and the intentions of the company.
Cross-examination of Mr Mathunjwa will continue on Tuesday.