NUM could have ‘negotiated for better wages for rock drill operators’
PRIOR to the loss of life on August 16 last year, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) could have tried to negotiate for a higher salary for rock drill operators, suggested counsel for the police, Ish Semenya SC, on Monday.
One of the issues that has been canvassed at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry — chaired by retired Supreme Court of Appeal judge Ian Farlam — has been the effect of an increase given to rock drill operators at Impala Platinum months before the start of the violent strike at Lonmin’s Karee mine, which claimed at least 44 lives.
Mr Semenya, who was cross-examining NUM branch chairman William Setelele, suggested that the Implats increase was a "change of climate", that could have justified a reopening of negotiations with Lonmin.
He said the police would argue that NUM knew that the rock drill operators’ demand for a salary increase was a legitimate one. The union also knew that the parties to the collective agreement were contractually entitled to reopen negotiations. "You elected not to," said Mr Semenya.
Mr Setelele agreed that NUM had raised a salary increase for rock drill operators in the last two rounds of collective bargaining negotiations. But he said he did not know where the demand for R12,500 came from, adding that NUM normally assessed demands to see what their effect would be on inflation.
He said NUM could not negotiate for the salary increase with Lonmin’s management because it did not have a mandate and the striking workers were not prepared to talk to NUM.
"How can you talk about something that you don’t have a mandate of? Where are you going to take that feedback? Because the people on the mountain don’t want you," he said.
Instead, NUM’s position was to encourage strikers to go back to work and offer them the opportunity to raise "any concerns" with the union so that it could be addressed through the "proper structures".
However, he conceded it would not have been a breach of the collective agreement to try and reopen negotiations with Lonmin. This, despite his statement — read out to the commission — that it would be a breach of the agreement to "raise fresh demands" during the term of the agreement.