Parties involved in the labour dispute at Impala Platinum’s Rustenburg operation should let the CCMA help, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant said on Monday.
“While there may be real problems raised by the industrial action embarked upon by employees of Implats a few weeks ago, problems of this kind are best dealt with through conflict resolution measures between management, employees, and the trade unions concerned,” Oliphant said in a statement.
She said it was a serious cause for concern that 17 200 employees had been dismissed from the mine after going on strike.
The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) offered its services on Friday in terms of section 150 of the Labour Relations Act, the labour department said. Section 150 allows the CCMA to intervene in disputes of public interest.
“The department understands that the CCMA’s offer of assistance has already been accepted by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and has further urged all parties to resolve their differences through constructive dialogue as soon as possible.”
Oliphant said mass dismissals would have a negative effect on employees and the communities from which they came.
“They also impact negatively on workplace relations and impose additional costs of re-hiring and re-training for management,” she said.
On Monday, Implats said the strike was continuing.
“Strike ongoing, consequently production still at a halt,” Implats spokesperson Bob Gilmour said in an emailed reply to questions. Last week, Implats fired 13 000 miners who went on an illegal strike starting on January 30.
On January 27, 4 200 workers were fired for embarking on an illegal strike at the mine. Implats said it would consider rehiring those workers who reapplied for their positions.
“We have started the process of rehiring,” Gilmour said.
The mine was losing around 3 000 ounces of production a day due to the strike. Implats said the problems at the mine started on January 12 when rock drill operators (RDOs) downed tools over salary concerns and refused to involve the recognised union, NUM, in addressing their issues.
According to Business Day on Friday, the drillers wanted to be represented by the Association of Mining and Construction Union (AMCU) instead of the NUM.
Implats said it told the workers that raising their issues through work stoppage was unacceptable and that this had to be done through recognised processes and structures.
“Any engagement with delegates outside the NUM would be a breach of the recognition agreement,” Implats said.
“Management urged the RDOs to engage with the appropriate structures in the NUM, of which they are members, so that their concerns could be raised in a legitimate manner and addressed accordingly.”
The group returned to work, but downed tools again on January 20. Implats said that in an effort to resolve the situation, it arranged a meeting between the NUM branch committee and the spokespeople for the RDOs.
“This meeting was abandoned because the delegations representing the RDOs walked out of the meeting,” Implats said.
The company denied allowing Amcu to convene meetings and address workers on the mine, as alleged by the NUM.
“Save for giving the RDOs an opportunity to voice their grievances and responding or advising as previously mentioned, Impala did not negotiate with any delegation from the RDOs.
“The company has in fact encouraged the NUM to meet with its members.”
Last week, the NUM said Implats had gone back on its promise of further negotiations with the union on issues other than those involving salaries.
The company had increased miners’ salaries by 18%, but had excluded rock drillers and other categories, which triggered the illegal strike, NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said in a statement.
Impala denied that this was unilaterally done.
“A valid and binding wage agreement is in place between Impala and the recognised union, the NUM, as of October 2011. It needs to be pointed out that no increases were unilaterally awarded to any category of employees.
“The only increases were salary adjustments for the miners, which were implemented in full consultation with the NUM,” Implats said.
The NUM’s regional secretary Sidwell Dokolwana told the New Age on Sunday that it had asked the CCMA to help. — Sapa