Platinum miners need centralised bargaining, says NUM president
WRONGLY defined job grades and the lack of a centralised collective bargaining structure in the platinum mining sector made it difficult for unions to take a co-ordinated approach to wage negotiations in the sector, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president Senzeni Zokwana said at the Marikana commission on Thursday.
Inadequate wages were at the root of the unprotected strike by rock-drill operators at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, which turned tragically violent and saw the deaths of 44 people, 34 of them in a bloody standoff with the police on August 16.
While the majority of Mr Zokwana’s testimony was focused on the short term — the events from August 10-16 during which the 44 people died — he also looked briefly at some of the deeper, underlying problems that continue to plague the mining industry generally and the platinum sector in particular.
Mr Zokwana said mineworkers’ job grades, which determine salary scales, were defined only on the basis of the type of authority associated with them. The grades did not take into account how difficult and how risky a job was, he said.
There was, on a mine, no job more difficult than that of rock-drill operators, such as those who embarked on the unprotected strike at Lonmin’s Karee mine, he said.
Every day, the rock-drill operator was on the rock face, he said. "He has to drill, with oil drizzling on his body, his body shivering with the vibration of the machine." A rock-drill operator was also at constant risk of a fatal explosion if unused explosives had not been properly removed.
"Many lives have been lost like that," he said. Yet the post of rock-drill operator was still considered as a lower grade job.
In the gold and coal sector, bargaining was done centrally through the chamber of mines, he said. In this sector, NUM had managed to raise the job grade for rock-drill operators from grade 4 to grade 5 and secure an increase for them, above the general increase that all the miners got.
But the lack of central collective bargaining in the platinum sector made it difficult for unions to have a co-ordinated approach and opened the way for wage competition within the sector — as happened at Impala Platinum, where miners got an 18% increase outside of a collective agreement, widely viewed as directly linked to the unprotected strike at Lonmin.
It created the "kind of imbalance" where people did not stay at one particular employer, he said.
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