/ 21 September 2012

Lonmin miners crack under pressure

The Lonmin workers are far from happy.
The Lonmin workers are far from happy.

Fear forced the  to accept Lonmin's final salary offer: fear of the closure of the mine and fear of the police, according to the miners. According to some, they are no better off than before the strike.

Lonmin this week offered miners what the company said was a 22% pay hike. The offer was printed on a piece of paper, stamped in red – "UPDATED OFFER". It listed current salaries and what the increases would be. It also said miners would receive "R1 500 once off … if this offer is accepted and return to work on Wednesday 19 September 2012". This was eventually raised to R2 000.

One miner, who did not want to be named, said that police had imposed a curfew in the Ikineng, Marikana and Wonderkop settlements on Saturday and that "no men were allowed on the streets, only women". He said that police had prevented the workers from meeting, and had said that, if they caught four or more miners together, they would be beaten.

There was a strong police presence in Wonderkop and Marikana this week, and armoured trucks were parked next to rolls of barbed wire.

Brian Mongale, a rock-drill operator, said the miners were afraid they would be shot by the police and had returned to work. Asked why they agreed to the offer, Mongale said without hesitation: "Because of the state of emergency. It's obvious. Although they said it was not a state of emergency, it was."

He said the "emergency" was imposed on Friday September 14. He said that the police had raided the Karee mine hostel at 2am the following day, looking for weapons.

After the police had prevented former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema from addressing them on Monday, they had been told they had an hour to disperse.

National police spokesperson Capt­ain Dennis Adriao denied there had been a curfew or state of emergency. "The police's objective was to ensure no illegal gatherings took place, and that people did not walk around with dangerous weapons. This was done to bring a level of normality to the area because of high levels of intimidation, and to stop violence and further killings." He added that police raids on workers' homes yielded two truckloads and a bakkie-load of weapons, such as pangas and spears.

On Tuesday, angry workers said Lonmin had lied about what they were earning before the strike.

According to the company, a rock-drill operator earned R9 063 a month, but the payslip of a rock driller, who lives in a hostel and does not receive a housing allowance, shows that his cost-to-company earnings were R6 945.13. After deductions, his take-home pay was R4 624. Even with a R1 875 increase offered by Lonmin, which includes a housing allowance, his take-home pay will not be near the R12 500 demanded by the miners.

A winch operator at the same hostel is in a similar position. His cost-to-company package was R6 046.89 a month, and his net salary R4 218.07.

Mongale said: "No one is happy. We were supposed to get R12 500. They say they don't have the money when it is there. This company has been exploiting us for a very, very long time."

Referring to what Lonmin said they were earning before the strike, he said: "This is a pure lie." His cost-to-company package was R7 361, which included his housing allowance. "They are sending the wrong message that we are on strike for no reason. I earn R207.90 a shift."

He said that, with four children and a wife to support, it was not enough, even with the wage hike. "My food costs me R2 000 a month. I can't just live on pap and cabbage. I need meat."

Some workers said they did not to understand their payslips, how much they earned, or how much they would be earning after the increase.

Good enough
One young miner lay on his back in the heat of the day at Bapong. He said they had accepted the offer, not because it was good enough but because their leaders told them that the mine would close.

Although his payslip showed that his taxable earnings were R9 419.14, he did not know why some deductions were being made from his salary, and why his take-home pay that month was only R5 800. "This is the problem. They are supposed to tax one thing. Instead they tax everything."

Responding to questions, Lonmin said that the total guaranteed package for rock-drill operators who did not live on its premises was R9 063, which included an allowance of R1 850. Rock drillers who lived in Lonmin hostels did not receive the allowance.

The mine said it could not comment on individual deductions because some of them were not company-related, such as garnishement orders. Because of the confusion, it said, "perhaps we need to look at simplifying our payslips".

Lonmin said that the company had met workers to explain the implications of the increases and would do so on a continual basis.

Confusion over payslips

Some Marikana miners do not understand their payslips, why they earn what they earn, or what the salary increase entails. But they are sure of one thing: they will still be in the red.

A winch operator said, although he paid medical aid, he did not know how it benefited him. His payslip shows that he earns bonuses, one an "ungalibali" ("don't forget") bonus of R403. What is it? He shook his head, laughed, and said he had no idea. He also did not understand why two amounts labelled "tax" were deducted.

Another young miner had the same problem. Although bonuses of R1 441.01 and R1 116.67 were shown on his payslip, he said he had only received the latter. With a total income of R9 419.14, he was in the dark about why his take-home pay was only R4 665.72.

The winch operator is nearly 50 and has worked for Lonmin for almost a decade. He said that there was no difference between his salary and that of a novice winch operator. In fact, all the miners who spoke to the M&G  said their basic salaries remained the same, regardless of years of service.

According to payslips seen by the M&G, a rock-drill operator earned a basic salary of R207.90 for an eight-hour shift. A winch operator earned R203.79 a shift, and a general underground worker earned R144.23 a shift.

Although the company contributes to medical aids, provident funds and the Unemployment Insurance Fund, the workers want more cash in hand to meet their and their families' basic needs.

Miners also do not know what will happen about the 9% salary hike agreed to by Lonmin before the strike, which was going to come into effect in October. Rock-driller Brian Mongale said he did not know what would happen if that pay rise was not implemented. "We don't know how we will react. We will have to protest."

But Lonmin said it had been included in the 22% wage hike.

Heidi Swart is the Eugene Saldanha Fellow in social justice reporting, sponsored by the Charities Aid Foundation, Southern Africa