Monday, 07 September 2009

Third force at Impala Strike & way forward?

Last week Friday on my way from Impala Medical Centre, one of the men coming from the hospital, talking to his friends, indicated that a ‘third force’ could be involved at Impala’s negotiations with National union of mine workers.

Despite Impala last week having reported that some of its employees returned to work, this, however, seems not to have taken place, or they did, but for a very short time.

This is because this morning, shaft geologists vacated shafts out of fear of being assaulted and beaten by angry workers who still today, refused Impala’s 10.5 % wage increase.

Geologists and workers at Impala Central offices, I have been informed and assumed to have been on duty, feared for their lives after workers turned violent and angry at Hostel No.8 stadium where they gathered this morning to get feedback from their representatives from National union of mine workers on their wage demands from their employer, Impala Platinum mine. This, they were informed, was in order to avoid incidents of assault and injuries that could result from angry and furious mine workers.

To date, mine workers are still refusing to accept the mine’s 10.5% wage increase negotiated by their representatives during last week offered by Impala.

This is the fourth violent incident taking place since NUM and Impala negotiations started months ago.

As reported in my blog on two incidents of violence before – where non-striking workers would be shamboked, while the other was when two contractors employees' were assaulted last week – this morning a report by & South African Press Association says that National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) deputy president Piet Matosa was attacked by workers.

Matosa, Impala Platinum spokesman Bob Gilmour told Sapa on Friday, was hit in the face by a stone after a group of NUM officials [he was amongst] tried to persuade those miners still on strike to return to work and was taken to hospital.

In the report, NUM general secretary Frans Baleni said the union was deeply saddened by the violent incident at the mine on Thursday after a meeting between NUM leadership and workers.

“The NUM is aware of criminal elements – [a ‘third force’ as has been suggested by others] that have been using labour disputes as scapegoats to pursue their narrow criminal and counter-revolutionary motives”.

Despite many criticizing the violence demonstrated by union members and some criminality elements, there seems to be little effort, if not, any disciplinary actions taken against those found guilty or suspected to have been involved in these criminal and violent acts – except those who appeared before magistrate court in Tlhabane, allegedly setting two cars of fire a week after the strike started.

Where to from here

At this stage there are only to options available to mine workers:
1. that workers must accept the 10.5% wage increase offered by Impala and avoid any retrenchment at least at this stage or for a year, or
2. that workers accept Impala’s offered 14% wage increase, if given in the end, accompanied by retrenchment.

The latter would be unfortunate especially if the last in, first out strategy is during the retrenchment consultation process.

Further, this will most likely affect women who were employed less than a year ago and many of whom were Impala’s efforts to increase gender representation in its operation in compliant with Employment Equity and Affirmative Action in the industry given the industry being male-dominated.

Although it is too early at this stage to foresee what a wage settlement or agreement, if any, between the two parties would be – the following however, remains to be seen:

a) Whether the first or the second option available to workers on their wage settlement with Impala which resulted in the latter losing millions, if not billions, due to non-production at Rustenburg operations will be accepted or not,
b) Whether workers or suspects to violence resulted in injuries or damage to properties will be disciplined or dealt with in a fair and procedural manner,
c) Whether, after a settlement, employees will be put under any pressure for more production given the demand of platinum on the market, if any, and
d) Whether Impala as an employer, will find other constructive ways of dealing with issues such as this one, if they arise, in the near future.

Just you wait and see and I will do my best to update you and developments, if any!

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