SA coal strike averted, for now, while NUM studies new offer


A COAL strike affecting as much as half of South Africa’s production may be averted after mining companies submitted new proposals scheduled to be heard at a plenary session on Monday (November 20), the day after the strike was due to begin.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said fresh proposals had been received by the coal mining companies. “There will be a plenary session on Monday. Depending on what the offer is, there’s a chance the NUM would accept it,” said Livhuwani Mammburu, a spokesman for the union.

The NUM said last week it had been granted with a strike certificate by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, an important precursor to downing tools. The next step would have been a 48 hour notice to strike which the NUM had planned to issue today. Mammburu said no such strike notice would be issued until after Monday, if at all.

No details of the new offer were available but Mammburu said they could be “tempting”. The union has demanded a R1,100 once off payment for the year 2017 and 8% salary improvement for 2018 for certain job grades. A 9.5% lift has been demanded for the third year of the proposed three-year wage deal.

Companies that are currently being represented by the Chamber of Mines in this latest round of collective bargaining are Anglo American Coal, Delmas Coal, Exxaro Coal Mpumalanga, Glencore, Kangra Coal, Koornfontein Mines and Msobo Coal. They produced half of total coal production, equal to 250 million tonnes or R112bn in sales in 2016.

“I can confirm that the parties have agreed to meet on Monday to explore a possible solution to the dispute. We will provide further updates on Monday,” said Motsamai Motlhamme, who leads coal industry wage negotiations for the Chamber of Mines in an e-mailed statement to Miningmx.

The Chamber had offered ‘larger’ companies such as Glencore and Anglo American a staggered increase of R1,100 for the first year of the deal for lower-paid employees and an increase of 7.5% for the higher categories. The smaller companies have offered increases ranging from 5% to 7.5%.

But the kicker is to the impasse is contained in another demand in which the NUM said it would “… only sign a three year agreement provided the Chamber of Mines accepts to remain in the Collective Bargaining Forum”. This demand refers to an attempt by Anglo American Coal, Exxaro and Glencore in January to negotiate wages separately rather than through the Chamber.

A market source said that one of the challenges with collective bargaining in the coal sector has been that the different operations often come from different positions. “Wages and benefits are not as homogenous as they are in the gold sector. The agreements reached are often so very different,” he said.

From the NUM’s perspective, it views the coal sector as an area in which it has total dominance over its rival, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). AMCU is dominant in the platinum and gold sectors, displacing the NUM. Being able to negotiate through the Chamber so publicly is a major show of influence for the NUM and a demonstration to its diminishing ranks that it is still a force with which to be reckoned.

“Employees in the coal sector are amongst the highest paid employees in the mining industry,” said Motlhamme. “Strike action will not be in the best interest of the industry or the stakeholders who depend on it, including employees,” he added