Editorial: Trust is key to a new labour deal

As we report in this edition, a peacekeeping force of some kind has been mooted to end the violence still haunting the platinum belt, where unionists on both sides of the labour divide have been murdered, and where, it is feared, a situation similar to that which led to 44 deaths last year could be developing. Nobody wants a rerun of August 16 2012, but what is happening to prevent that?

As we also report, few people seem to think a peacekeeping unit in Marikana will help much. Police personnel are government employees and the ANC, the governing party, is in an alliance with the trade union ­federation Cosatu, of which the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is a member. So it seems likely that the people of Marikana will see any such force as a tool of the state and, by extension, the previously dominant union, the NUM.

Successful peacekeeping relies on the building of trust. Mines Minister Susan Shabangu built no trust when she said recently that the challenge to the NUM from its competitor, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), was a matter of political power. These "forces", she said, "want to realise one major objective: ultimately to defeat and dislodge the ANC from power".

Admittedly, she also advised Cosatu to rebuild from the ground up, which is good advice, but she can't demonise Amcu one day and moan the next that the unions are "decimating each other". And then she calls for "unity"?

What needs to be rebuilt from the ground up is South Africa's labour regime. It is teetering and crumbling in too many places. Marikana is just the most visible and painful exemplar of the situation, but there are a host of other instances showing its instability.

Cosatu's hostility
In Parliament this week, ANC MPs echoed Cosatu's hostility to provisions on labour brokers and strike ballots in the Labour Relations Amendment Bill. Its provisions have already been negotiated through the National Economic, Development and Labour Council and are a good example of the kind of negotiated solution needed if stability is to return to Marikana and the rest of the mining industry – let alone to create jobs.

One example: the Bill mandates ballots for strikes, as argued for by business; labour may not like it but it has to give way on some matters. That's the nature of a negotiated solution. So, with President Jacob Zuma sending his deputy and other ministers off last week to talk to all the role-players and find solutions, they will need to ask what such negotiations require.

Ballots for strikes are an important issue, as are thresholds for union acceptance by management, as shown by the ongoing talks at the Lonmin mine at Marikana. The NUM may be trying to filibuster in that area and has seized on a legislated three-month window to try to reverse its fortunes, but it shouldn't be kidding itself that simply reinvoking the rules is going to help in the long run.

Yes, there need to be rules – but at the moment it looks as though it's the rules themselves that need to be renegotiated. Hallowed principles such as collective bargaining may even have to be rethought if they are to apply to union organising in ways that do not infringe the rights of any workers, or leave some voices unheard. Being unwilling or unable to hear those voices ultimately led to the Marikana tragedy, an anniversary that we are rapidly approaching.

Let us not reach August 16 2013 to find the situation unchanged.


These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertising

Two dead in new ANC KwaZulu-Natal killings

A Mtubatuba councillor and a Hammarsdale ANC Youth League leader were shot yesterday near their homes

Inside Facebook’s big bet on Africa

New undersea cables will massively increase bandwidth to the continent

No back to school for teachers just yet

Last week the basic education minister was adamant that teachers will return to school on May 25, but some provinces say not all Covid-19 measures are in place to prevent its spread

Engineering slips out of gear at varsity

Walter Sisulu University wants to reprioritise R178-million that it stands to give back to treasury after failing to spend it
Advertising

Press Releases

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

What Africa can learn from Cuba in combating the Covid-19 pandemic

Africa should abandon the neoliberal path to be able to deal with Covid-19 and other health system challenges likely to emerge in future

Road to recovery for the tourism sector: The South African perspective

The best-case scenario is that South Africa's tourism sector’s recovery will only begin in earnest towards the end of this year

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

Call for applications for the position of GCRO executive director

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is seeking to appoint a high-calibre researcher and manager to be the executive director and to lead it

DriveRisk stays safe with high-tech thermal camera solution

Itec Evolve installed the screening device within a few days to help the driver behaviour company become compliant with health and safety regulations