Picture: THE TIMES
Picture: THE TIMES

ANTICIPATING a year of tough negotiations in a difficult economic climate, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on Wednesday warned members against submitting demands that were “unreachable”.

The NUM landed in hot water last year after workers in Rustenburg opted to sidestep the union in wage talks, which resulted in a fatal clash with police at Marikana, in which 34 people were killed.

The NUM is holding a two-day bargaining conference in preparation for wage talks in several sectors, including gold and coal.

NUM deputy president Piet Matosa said the conference was of grave importance, and that its work this year went to the very heart of the union’s survival. The gathering comes as the NUM moves to regain ground after the wildcat strikes in the sector, during which workers largely rejected the Congress of South African Trade Unions affiliate in favour of splinter union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

Mr Matosa warned mineworker leaders at the conference in Midrand that “ it is going to be very difficult for the NUM in some regions to talk to members, to get a mandate”.

He was speaking as mine bosses gathered in Cape Town for the annual Mining Indaba. Mr Matosa accused “outside” forces of wanting to “compromise” the NUM’s mandate-seeking process.

This process was central to the NUM regaining the ground it lost in Rustenburg — its largest, most influential and also most troubled region over the past year. “They want to instil fear and submit demands that are unreachable … be careful of submitting demands that are unreachable,” he said.

The negotiating climate would be hard, with mining companies threatening to retrench workers, and with the unbundling of Gold Fields, as acquisitions and mergers often lead to job losses.

Anglo American Platinum came under fire from the government and the African National Congress last month after it announced plans to restructure. It has since shelved the plan — for now.

The NUM was aware of the “fine balancing act” it was tasked with, needing to manage the expectations of the public, its members and investors. Further, it was aware of the damage caused by unions failing to listen to, and take forward, their members’ demands.

“There must be a mandate-seeking process; this process must not be compromised ”, he said.

During this year’s bargaining process, the NUM would steer clear of the approaches that could land it in trouble with its members —  including being open to “across-the-board” wage increases. Mr Matosa urged workers to protect the union against “attacks”, and to close the perceived gap between union leaders and members.

“If we lose this year, I don’t know what is going to happen to us, this is about the future of our union”.

The NUM’s negotiator, Ecliff Tantsi, said it would “not ignore” the “new kid on the block”, referring to Amcu, as the union strategised for the year ahead.