Every Friday morning, SAfm’s AMLive’s radio anchor Xolani Gwala speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:
Gwala: As strikes continue to sweep through the country, South Africa’s top labour lawyers are demanding a radical reform of South Africa’s Labour Relations Act.
Creamer: They don't want any tinkering with this, Xolani. They want the Labour Relations Act to be completely overhauled and they want it to be done through a Wiehahn-type commission of inquiry. In the late Seventies and early Eighties, we had a Wiehahn Commission, which led to the formal registration of black unionism.
They are saying that we are at that sort of crossroads now. We have got to come back and we have to realise that there is international best practice for these bits of legislation, which we don’t have in our system. They want the whole organisational rights structure to change.
They are particularly looking at not being over centralised, although there is a lot of effort now to centralise. They say there should be two tiers, because you can’t take your staff so remote from the employer. What they are a looking for is a centralised bargaining situation to deal with the minimum wages, the absolute minimum.
Then for people to be duty bound to go in to an enterprise negotiation where you link productivity to special increases, because we are falling so far behind. Our labour unit cost is so high and the system is just not working, because linked to it is huge violence. When they give the statistics we are so much more violent then anyone else, even on the lost days, we are losing ten times more per thousand employees then anywhere else in the world.
So, this is unsustainable, they say do it through a formal commission of inquiry like the Wiehahn Commission and come up with world best practice inside your legislation and reform the whole labour law situation.
Gwala: South Africa’s strife-torn platinum sector has come together in a bid to co-craft a new dispensation for itself.
Creamer: This is going on at the moment. The platinum industry is coming together as a sector wanting to create a long-lasting prosperous, and sustainable industry going to the future, but we are prevented from doing that. So, let all the parties come together and this was kicked-off by the Labour Minister Mildred Olifant.
Interestingly, it’s being facilitated by independent professionals. All those parties would be interested parties so not one of them would take the lead, not the Chamber of Mines, not the unions, not the government. We have got Charles Nupen and Meshack Ravuku and Peter Harris to facilitate this on-going thing.
One of the big hazards is playing the man and not the ball, because there is a lot of anxiety within the sector, and people are being encouraged to vent. They say part of the process must be for you to express your displeasure even if there is sweat on the walls, but you must keep your goal as creating a long-lasting and prosperous platinum sector.
One of the issues which is really popping up, and I think companies are going to became under intense pressure is around this migrant labour system, because people are saying at the heart of the problem is this migrant labour system where people have two families, two homes, one near mine and one in the rural areas, and they need to change their work cycles.
This has been the result of long work cycles and not global best practice. They must go to migrant labour systems, the best practice in the world where you could get flown home or alternatively if that builds up to such a cost at regular intervals, then have an incentive for the families to rather live close to the mine, so that you don’t have this dual situation, and elevate human dignity to the centre of the debate.
Gwala: What it all means is when it is all said and done there will be some drastic and radical changes.
Creamer: There need to be some drastic and radical changes made to the whole legislative framework and also the socio-economical deficits.
Gwala: Black-controlled Exxaro Resources will be launching a ‘mine-of-the-future’ concept next month.
Creamer: This you see is also linked to all the trouble in the mining industry. People are looking to the ‘mine-of-the-future’, which won’t be the mine-of-the-past even in physical terms.
We have got now the black-controlled Exxaro next month they will let people know about their mine-of-the-future concept, which they have been working on.
They are working very closely with another black-owned company, Fraser Alexander, which has just turned 100 years. Fraser Alexander is now owned by the Royal Bafokeng Holdings, it is now a Royal Bafokeng company and interestingly they have got 6 500 people in 14 countries, so it is quite and established thing that they’ve got there.
They are going to work on the community of the future to link with this, what has been given an acronym NXXT. The NXXT mine coming up from Exxaro, which also has two X’s in it, but the particular reserve of Fraser Alexander will be to look at the community of the future and this part of the Bafokeng’s 2035 vision where they want to uplift this. It is part of a whole groundswell in the world.
Rio Tinto is so far advanced that even registered the trademark the mine-of-the-future. If you go to Australia now you see driverless trains and trucks and you see the people sitting in Perth controlling iron-ore operations hundreds of miles away in the Pilbara. Anglo American has also got its Mine 2030 vision. AngloGold Ashanti wants to automate, they want to leap right over mechanisation and right into automation at deep-level.
So what is the message here? You are going to be less labour intensive, more capital intensive and couple it to legislative form so that we can come out of this terrible impasse of the mining industry, and a lot of people now with their future mine are saying they don’t want to be associated with the mine industry, they want to say we are in resource extraction.
Gwala: So it is not mining it is resource extraction.
Creamer: Yes, resource extraction because of the bad image being created for mining.
Gwala: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly, he’ll be back with us at the same time next week.