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Wage deal at Lonmin but labour unrest continues in South Africa’s mining sector

20 September, 2012After a six week strike and bloody unrest at Lonmin’s Marikana mine that left 45 people dead, workers have returned to work.

A wage deal was struck following a month of tense negotiations and continuing labour strife in the aftermath of police killing 34 striking Lonmin miners on 16 August. Rock drillers, whose demands for a monthly salary of R12,500 were at the centre of the strike, will now receive R11,078 after a 22 per cent increase as well a once off bonus to return to work.

The deal is likely to set a precedent for wage demands and create a new benchmark for wages in the sector and could possibly fuel a ripple effect of labour unrest in the mining sector. Already 15,000 gold miners at KDC West operations of Goldfields are on strike citing demands related to those of workers at Marikana. Anglo Platinum has shut down its Rustenburg operations in anticipation of spreading labour unrest and on 18 September, police fired teargas and rubber bullets to disperse protestors outside the mine.  There are also rumblings that workers at Impala Platinum have been inspired by the deal to make similar demands.

Whilst the strike may be over, shock at the violence and the unnecessary force used by police has led to the recognition that changes are needed in the mining sector. From their congress currently in session, the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) states “We are extremely concerned that the events of 16 August and the on-going violence, whose main victims remain the exploited masses, has shifted the focus and blame from the platinum bosses who have systematically undermined collective bargaining and promoted division amongst workers, and who have been sitting in the shadows enjoying profits from the very workers whose families have now been robbed of their only breadwinners.” Full Cosatu statement.

There is still much to do to address the working and living conditions of mineworkers that have received much exposure as the root cause of the unrest. Attention has also been drawn to the plight of mining communities and sub contracted workers. To this end, Cosatu has called for a second independent commission of inquiry to investigate the employment and social conditions of workers in the mining industry, historically and at present. This second commission will work parallel to the judicial commission already appointed by the South African President, Jacob Zuma to look into the Lonmin tragedy.  

Whilst plans are underway to establish centralized bargaining for the platinum industry, worker confidence in union representation and the collective bargaining process needs to be rebuilt. Cosatu has expressed its commitment to defend the National Union of Mineworkers (Num).

The NUM has been at the forefront of calling for radical change in the industry. But its efforts have been frustrated by unilateralism on the part of the bosses, by the blind encouragement of splinter unions by the bosses by competition for positions of shop steward, by the resuscitation of tribalism in some areas, and the resistance of our government to ban the practice of labour broking. COSATU condemns, in the strongest terms, the opportunistic political exploitation of the plight of workers and incitement to violence by any groups or individuals for their own selfish ends.