New minister appoints team to help end mining strike

29 May 2014

Newly appointed Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramathlodi has set up a task team to look into ways of resolving the long-running strike in South Africa’s platinum mining sector.

The protracted wage dispute, which has lasted for over four months, has slowed productivity and put a serious dent in the country’s economic growth rate.

The minister, who was sworn into office on Monday, has hit the ground running and was scheduled to meet with mining bosses on Thursday morning.

In a radio interview on Wednesday, Ramatlhodi said he had met with three unions involved in the mining strike – the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), the United Association of South Africa (Uasa) and Solidarity – on Tuesday in a bid to begin a process of mediating the strike, which has now lasted over four months.

The minister said the president of Amcu, Joseph Mathunjwa, had given him the assurance that while his members were still on strike, they were doing “everything possible” to reach an agreement with the mining houses.

“I have tasked my deputy [Minister Godfrey Oliphant] … to put together an inter-ministerial team, a technical team so that it gives me the capability to begin the process of mediating with the parties,” the minister said. “So that team will be inaugurated [on Thursday] at my office.”

Ramatlhodi said the technical team would include officials from the Departments of Mineral Resources, Labour and the Treasury, and would meet at an undisclosed location on Thursday with representatives from the mining companies and Amcu.

“The mandate of the technical team is to broaden the approach and explore all possibilities for a resolution to the problem. They will interrogate all the information (including the figures) provided by both parties, and report back by the end of the day on what is possible.”

Ramatlhodi said that, while his job was to facilitate talks instead of negotiating with the parties, he decided it was time that the government got involved after the latest mediation talks, facilitated by a labour court judge, appeared to fall through.

“All parties are hurting. The workers are hurting. We have no option but to find an amicable solution,” the minister said.

Labour Court Judge Hilary Rabkin-Naicker last week persuaded labour and the mining companies to enter into mediation headed by herself.

She had been scheduled to hear an urgent application by Amcu to interdict the platinum companies from SMS-ing employees directly regarding their wage offers, but instead held a meeting with both parties behind closed doors.

On Tuesday, Statistics SA reported that South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) had contracted 0.6 percent quarter-on-quarter in the first three months of the year – its first contraction since the second quarter of 2009, when the world’s economy dipped as a result of a global recession.

Statistician-General Pali Lehohla said mining (-1.3%) and manufacturing (-0.7%) were the main contributors to the contraction.

“The economy is almost knocking on the door of recession, and we should not allow that to happen to ourselves,” Lehohla said. “The damage takes many years to repair. So ending the strike will contribute a hundred-fold to the economy.”