SA mining’s uneasy truce with labour – by André Janse van Vuuren ( – November 27,2012)

While labour relations in the country have entered a period of relative calm, fears remain that the truce remains at risk.

JOHANNESBURG (MINEWEB) – Labour relations in South Africa have entered a period of relative calm in recent weeks, but the uneasy truce that exists between workers and their employers is at risk from a host of simmering tensions.

Normality has to a large extent returned to South Africa’s mining industry following the sector wide strikes which have shut the majority of the country’s biggest platinum and gold producing shafts for more than a month. Gold miners like AngloGold Ashanti and Gold Fields report the ramp-up process is largely going according to plan with no interruptions.

Similarly, the mass gatherings and often violent protests around the platinum mines of the North West province seem to have quietened down, while some mining bosses say they’re looking forward to a new era of multi-union relations.

But, some trouble spots remain. Kumba Iron Ore’s Sishen mine in the Northern Cape is, according to company spokesperson Gert Schoeman, still plagued by some no-shows and intimidation. Frans Baleni, general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), said independent working committees continue to make daily demands at Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum, affecting the companies’ respective ability to ramp-up or operate at full capacity.

The peace is also being tested by a number of Section 189 notices – the official process to communicate likely retrenchments in accordance with South Africa’s labour laws – issued by the likes of Lonmin, Gold One International and Village Main Reef.

There is a fear though that workers’ desire to take some money home for Christmas may be the biggest factor to keep a lid on further unrest for the time being.

Baleni, who last week had an audience with the investment community in London, told the Financial Times there were no guarantees for a lasting peace. On Tuesday, he told Mineweb a mismatch between the expectations raised by strike leaders and the realised increments in wages could be a trigger for further unrest.

“Some of the workers were misled by the promises that was made [by strike leaders],” Baleni said. “What they were told didn’t materialise and they could come back to demand delivery on the promises.”

Similarly, he said, assumptions from workers on what may come from the new round of wage talks scheduled for 2013 for both gold and platinum producers might not be in line with what the employers could eventually afford.

Some of Baleni’s views were echoed in a research report published by JPMorgan Cazenove in October, which said the unrest and sporadic strikes could continue for at least another six to 12 months. Written by analyst James Wellstead, the firm said factionalism within South Africa’s ruling ANC party and tripartite alliance was another factor driving the strikes, and wouldn’t be resolved by the outcome of the leadership contest scheduled for December in Mangaung.
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