Implats pay hike a ‘fracture point’ that sparked Marikana

Wage increases for workers at Impala Platinum had a direct impact on the events at Lonmin in the run-up to the Marikana massacre in August 2012, counsel for the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has said.

Advocate Karel Tip, representing the NUM, submitted closing arguments at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry on Thursday.

Tip said that centralised bargaining must remain the bedrock of labour negotiations. The effects of negotiating outside this framework had a dire impact on what transpired at Marikana.

He said that Lonmin had not been asked by NUM members to negotiate on their behalf for an increase of R12?500. The union had not introduced the number, he said. Tip referred to witness evidence that the demand for R12?500 was not at any point brought to the NUM.

Other legal teams have also argued that the rock drill operators who were on strike did not want union involvement.

‘Fateful ‘unilateral decision’
At various points during the commission, parallels have been drawn between the 2011 strike at Implats and the 2012 strike at Lonmin. Tip said these parallels were more than just coincidental.

He said that December 18 2011 was a “critical fracture moment”. That was when Implats took a “unilateral decision” to give its workers an 18% across-the-board increase.

“Why? Because Impala management had the view that other mines are paying better. No consultations, no negotiations; it’s simply done,” he said.

Tip said this decision was taken by Impala’s commercial management because, if the mine lost workers, this would have an impact on production.

Due to the close proximity of the mining operations in the area, this development was discussed among miners, he said.

“Come January 2012, when people return to work, there is almost instantly a demand from the rock drill operators for a R9?000 basic wage.”

Tip said workers then became angry with the NUM because the feedback to workers during negotiations had been that Impala could not “do better”. Only a few months later, Impala gave higher increases.

Retired judge Ian Farlam added that NUM negotiators were among those who had received increases.

‘Wave of rage’
Tip said this was a “coincidental aggravating factor” that was “sufficient for a wave of rage to spread”. The strike then turned violent and “a lot of that violence was directed at the NUM”.

Then, in April 2012, “Impala again unilaterally announced a set of across-the-board increases to bring an end to the strike. This included promotions for rock drill operators and other very substantial advantages.”

Tip said this sent a message to workers that they could forget about collective bargaining structures and that violence would “speed up the process”.

“Far from being a distant parallel, Impala demonstrates clearly what happens when the statutory framework is breached.”

Tip also said there was no evidence that there was a “social distance” between the NUM and its workers, as had been alleged by some submissions given to the commission.

In July 2012, Lonmin decided to give the rock drill operators an “allowance” of R750 which, Tip said, was an attempt to avoid work stoppages. Lonmin said this was not a case of the mine negotiating directly with workers. But Tip said workers clearly understood this to be the case.

He said the NUM had consistently advised its workers to negotiate through collective bargaining and to return to work. Tip said the union had helped its members who wanted to return to work.

The NUM’s recommendations to the commission are that the police and the National Prosecuting Authority should investigate anyone suspected of being involved in criminal behaviour during the strike.

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Sarah Evans
Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics. 

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