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South African mine workers union commits to recruitment and better service to members

28 October, 2021At a policy conference in East London, 26-27 October, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), resolved that it will go back to the basics on recruitment, organizing, and servicing of its members in the construction, energy, metals, and mining sectors.

The conference was attended by over 400 delegates and the issues discussed included strategic organizing and improving services to members, including representation in conciliation and mediation, union engagement on mining policies, the mining charter, energy policies, cement manufacturing, gender-based violence and harassment, and updates on processes to adopt International Labour Organization Convention 190. Health and safety and Covid-19 vaccination were the other issues discussed. There were calls to include more women and young workers in the union’s activities and decision making.

On workers welfare, there were discussions on living wages through negotiating for collective bargaining agreements that maintained decent wages and working conditions that the union has organized over the years. So far, the union has signed wage agreements with 13 mining companies. There were also discussions on retirement benefits and plans to trace retired workers who have not yet claimed their pensions. The union discussed models that can be adopted to provide decent housing to the workers. Additionally, the conference debated the importance of building the capacity of the union shop steward in a changing world of work and to provide skills to counter precarious work through union organizing.

The conference heard that mining continued to contribute to the country’s GDP and that it is amongst the sectors leading in the economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Most NUM members are from the mining sector including gold, platinum, coal, and other metals. The union is against the mothballing of mines, which has led to tens of thousands job losses resulting in the union losing members.

The union said it is opposed to the privatization of the public power utility, Eskom. Instead, it favours the involvement of the state-owned enterprise in the renewable energy sector currently dominated by independent power producers and the protection of jobs.

On the Just Transition, one of the most discussed topics at the conference, William Mabapa, NUM acting general secretary said:

“The debate on the abandoning of coal and moving to renewable energy without considering the interests of the coal mineworkers and power station workers is dangerous. Abruptly stopping coal mining will destroy the economy of the Mpumalanga province which is dependent on the fossil fuel. In that sense, navigating the energy transition is important for miners and communities. Further, we must secure the energy supply before moving to renewables and therefore need an energy mix policy that includes nuclear.”

Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa says:

“Trade unions, like most organization go through a life cycle. As it approaches its 40th anniversary, the NUM is maturing as a strong union and the discussions that took place at the policy conference reflect this. It is strategic that the NUM is discussing the future of work and redefining its role as a trade union in the current digital age.”