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Amcu strikes gives Oliphant sleepless nights

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant on Tuesday warned of turbulence in the labour market.

"Recent developments in the labour front signify a turbulent period ahead, but I still believe that it is incumbent upon me to extend best wishes to you all for 2014," she said at a Nedlac conference in Pretoria.

On Monday, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) announced it would strike in both the platinum and gold sectors after issuing employers with strike notices. Amcu was one of the unions involved in the strike at Lonmin's Marikana mine, which led to the deaths of 44 people in August 2012.

Job growth was "the most important challenge" for 2014, Oliphant said at the National Economic Development and Labour Council's conference.

"We also hope that this year will buck the trend of 2013 that saw a higher number of new contract jobs or short-duration jobs than permanent jobs."

This was in line with the National Development Plan's (NDP's) aim to create 2.8-million new jobs by 2015. She noted criticism of labour legislation and labour dispensation, particularly from some international bodies, as well as local business and the media.

"There are also some who are clearly of the view that our labour legislation is too restrictive and that the South African labour market is over-regulated. We certainly don't think so."

'Regulated flexibility'
The Democratic Alliance recently announced its policies ahead of the national elections, calling for a relaxation of labour regulation, which it said would help create jobs. Oliphant said government aimed for an approach of "regulated flexibility".

"Regulated flexibility accepts the necessity of regulation, and the need for flexibility. The key issue is finding the right balance. So, let us make progress by focusing on the details and on striking the right balance in our labour legislation."

One of the difficulties raised in the NDP was the need to link growth in wages with productivity growth.

"This is an area that the department has not addressed directly but it is one that will require attention."

The department was prioritising the promulgation and implementation of the Bills, currently before Parliament. The proposed amendments to the Labour Relations Act, Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the Employment Equity Act, and the Employment Services Act would enable the department to deal with abuses in the labour market and non-compliance with labour legislation.

On Friday, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) said it issued Amcu with non-resolution certificates for the platinum sector, after negotiations with Lonmin Platinum, Anglo American Platinum, and Impala Platinum deadlocked. But the Chamber of Mines said gold producers would go to court as they believed the strike in their sector was illegal, and would seek damages from the union. The strikes were scheduled to take place at Sibanye Gold's Driefontein mine, Harmony Gold's Kusasalethu and Masimong mines, and at all of AngloGold Ashanti's South African operations, after the union referred separate disputes with the three companies to the commission in October and November last year. Amcu was the dominant union in the platinum sector.

Amcu is demanding an entry-level monthly salary of R12 500. 

Crippling the gold industry
Meanwhile, trade union Solidarity said on Tuesday a strike by labour union Amcu could cripple an already fragile gold mining industry.

"We are concerned about the job security of Amcu's members as a strike … could be unprotected and could put the future of thousands of mine workers and their families at risk," general secretary Gideon du Plessis said in a statement. "Fortunately there is still time for the parties to find common ground this week and to avoid a situation where there are no winners, only losers."

Du Plessis said he was concerned about the intention by Amcu to strike as it could result in retrenchments.

"We have been negotiating with the employers through the CCMA for some time," he said at the time. "After we obtained the CCMA certificates for all the companies, we continued as Amcu in believing in the negotiation process to try and not come to a stage where there is strike action."

A two-tier wage agreement was concluded on September 10 last year with three of the four unions in the sector, being the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Uasa and Solidarity. The NUM, Uasa and Solidarity represented 72% of workers in the gold sector, while Amcu represented 17% of workers at the time of the negotiations.

Du Plessis said the strike would not be in the interest of Amcu, its members, or the industry.– Sapa

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