NUM to call national coal strike after bust-up with Chamber

THE National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is to embark on a national strike in the coal sector following the disintegration of discussions in which the Chamber of Mines tabled ending collective bargaining for wages.

Earlier today, Miningmx quoted the chamber’s head of employment of relations, Motsamai Motlhamme, as saying that the talks were “highly sensitive”. The talks involve Anglo American Coal, Msobo Coal, Delmas Coal, Exarro Coal Mpumalanga, Kangra Coal, Koornfontein Mines and Glencore Operations SA.

It now emerges that they were on the brink of collapse after the NUM insisted that the chamber had performed a volte face having earlier assured it it would stay in collective bargaining.

The NUM is to refer the matter to the CCMA and once a strike certificate is issued, it intends to embark on a strike in the coal sector.

Said Peter Bailey, NUM chief negotiator in the coal sector: “The strike process will not be resolved until the Chamber of Mines withdraws its notification and until it negotiates with unions in good faith.

“If the Chamber of Mines wants an unproductive mining industry, if it is in search of the collapse of the coal sector industry and if the Chamber of Mines wants anarchy we can respond with anarchy”.

Coal wage negotiations are due to kick off around May or June ahead of the expiry of the current two-year wage deal, effective July 2015, in which category 4 to 8 workers were awarded a R750 and R1,000 per month increase in the first year, and guaranteed increases of 7.5% in the second year.

Motlhamme was reluctant to discuss the matter of future wage negotiations. However, he said a meeting with the NUM, and other unions, was taking place this week after which the situation would become clearer.

Commenting in a statement issued by the Chamber on February 1, Motlhamme said: “The unions declared a dispute and the Chamber is awaiting formal notice of this dispute”. He added that the Chamber remained open to further engagements with the unions on the matter.

Coal wage negotiations used to be easier to settle than in the gold and platinum sectors owing to the higher skills level of the workforce, itself a function of greater mechanisation in the sector.

During the last wage negotiations, however, there was a 10-day strike ahead of the settlement. And labour has tended to be more restive on the coal mines. In April last year, 57 striking workers were arrested during a violent strike over wages at Glencore’s Wonderfontein colliery in Mpumalanga province.

“One of the challenges with collective bargaining in the coal sector has been that the different operations now often come from very different positions,” an industry source told Miningmx. “Wages and benefits are not as homogenous as they are in the gold sector. The agreements reached are often so very different.”

Writing in BizNews, Solidarity general-secretary, Gideon du Plessis, said coal wage negotiations outside of the chamber would be frowned upon by the NUM because it’s still the majority union in the coal sector.

“This development has the NUM hot under the collar as the coal negotiations at the chamber constituted a major platform for a show of force by NUM which has become of key importance now that their arch rival, AMCU (Associated Mineworkers & Construction Union) no longer enjoys recognition in the coal sector,” he said. The AMCU displaced the NUM has the main union in South Africa’s platinum sector and has made in-roads among NUM’s gold industry membership.

As a result, the NUM may react stridently against the chamber’s proposals, which may be a spur to the NUM’s own wider political plans to be “more radical” – a strategy hinted at by David Sipunzi, general-secretary of the NUM, last year.

The notion of a more radical NUM is possibly a response to growing populism elsewhere in the political system, not to mention the fact that it would cast the NUM as equally as outspoken force as the AMCU.

Perhaps these political manouevrings could lead to strikes later this year when coal industry wage negotiations kick off – hence the circumspect approach of the chamber’s Motlhamme.

Said Moeketsi Mofokeng, spokesman for Anglo Coal: “We would really prefer that issues and suggestions raised by different companies be discussed and resolved through the chamber process”.