Cosatu turns up the heat on mine bosses
Trade union federation Cosatu seems to be on the warpath, with the Chamber of Mines its victim of choice.
The hearings into the Marikana tragedy are scheduled to start this morning and illegal strikes continue to paralyse large chunks of the mining sector.
Cosatu and its affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers, are meeting today to thrash out a plan they hope will bring an end to the unrest that has plagued the country, spreading from the platinum to the gold and coal mines.
Cosatu wants the chamber to renegotiate wage agreements.
But, according to its general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, this does not mean the federation is calling for an illegal strike.
As many as 45 people were killed at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine in August as an illegal strike, said to have been instigated by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, spiralled into violence.
Amcu's radical demands outflanked the Cosatu-affiliated NUM and tensions have been high in the area since.
One of the issues the Marikana Commission of Inquiry will look into when it convenes in Rustenburg today is the degree of control NUM and Amcu have over their members.
The commission will also focus on the conduct of Lonmin, the police, Amcu, NUM, the Department of Mineral Resources, and of individuals and loose groupings.
For Cosatu, control of its members is a sore point - illegal strikes have spread like wildfire.
This is not only because of "extravagant" wage demands but also because of members' dissatisfaction with their local NUM leadership.
At the weekend, Vavi tried to convince striking miners at one hotspot - Gold Fields' KDC West mine, near Carletonville, on the West Rand - that the union federation would champion demands for a net wage of R12500 a month.
Cosatu is now trying to shift attention from its rivalry with the more radical unions by taking aim at the chamber.
Federation spokesman Patrick Craven would not confirm that Cosatu was planning to reopen wage negotiations with the entire mining sector, saying only "that all will be revealed" [today].
Gold Fields hassaid it will not entertain demands for higher wages because the current agreement does not expire until next year.
Chamber of Mines CEO Bheki Sibiya confirmed that gold and coal mining companies met NUM representatives a fortnight ago and that "the current agreements stand and need to be respected".
Sibiya said yesterday that the industry body had been trying to negotiate with Cosatu for three months without success. "Cosatu is, interestingly, talking more to the media than to us," said Sibiya.
The chamber's requests for a meeting, Sibiya said, predated the Marikana tragedy.
At the weekend Vavi was adamant that his federation would reopen wage negotiations.
"The wages have been suppressed for far too long. It is now time for us to take the battle to where it belongs - to the employer," he said.
Sibiya, however, said wage negotiations were not on the cards. "We can hear what they have to say," he said.
"But the Chamber of Mines does not want to raise anyone's expectations by saying there will be a first round of talks. To stop the wildcat [strikes] is not to reward the wildcats."
- NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said the union's chairman at Anglo Platinum's Khomanani Mine was in a stable condition. He was critically injured in a petrol-bomb attack on his home at the weekend.
- A protected strike in the transport sector, which was marred by violence, was said to be close to an end yesterday.
Road-freight workers have been on strike for a week demanding a wage increase of 12% for two years.
SA Transport and Allied Workers' Union spokesman Vincent Masoga said yesterday that a deal might be struck in the early hours of this morning and that union members would then return to work later in the day.
Earlier yesterday, the Road Freight Employers' Association distanced itself from the agreement between three cash-in-transit companies and members of the Motor Transport Workers' Union.
"This agreement was not sanctioned by the [association] or any of the unions," spokesman Magretia Brown-Engelbrecht said.
Masoga said the settlement was invalid.