SOUTH Africa should transition from a constitutional democracy to a ‘social democracy’ and implement more socialist policies to retain jobs in the mining sector, suggests Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) president Joseph Mathunjwa.
Speaking on the second day of a tripartite government, business and labour jobs summit last Thursday, he further suggested that government should revoke the licences of mines that are on care and maintenance and transfer those rights to junior mining companies, thereby creating or retaining jobs.
He said that the ANC government should cap executive salaries so that more value is spread to the workers, adding that some of the yearly salaries earned by mining CEOs are ‘obscene’, especially in light of the country’s economic environment. Further, he noted that government should deal with illicit flows of capital, as well as ‘protect’ rare minerals and ensure they are beneficiated in the country.
Lastly, Mathunjwa noted that up- and reskilling workers should be a greater priority for mining companies, because mining is not sustainable, but the industries, specifically manufacturing, that are built on its contributions, can be. Moreover, as the South African economy has moved to a tertiary (services-based) economy, there are fewer opportunities in primary and secondary sectors.
The AMCU leader stated that mechanisation and modernisation would give unions and workers ‘grey hair’, because the concepts are based on ensuring greater productivity and lower costs, resulting in workers being treated as an expense, rather than people.
He said: ‘With modernisation, the challenge will be how do you skill workers, how do you transition to a new way of mining without having a negative impact on humanity.’
Although he did not advocate the nationalisation of mines, he did call for a more active role by the State, specifically in terms of injecting finances into projects to protect the workforce. Mathunjwa also suggested that the government tax valuable by-products, which he believes are being sold to generate separate revenue streams that are not reported, nor are used to reimburse workers.
He reiterated AMCU’s determination that a ‘decent minimum wage’ is R12 500.
The summit took place in an environment in which the South African economy is contracting and shedding jobs with 9.6 million people unable to find work.
The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) boycotted the summit, saying that it would not do anything to reduce unemployment. The federation turned down an invitation by the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) to attend the summit.
South Africa has the world’s sixth highest level of unemployment and is seen to be the world’s most unequal country. SAFTU said that government and the constituencies which form part of Nedlac do not appreciate the scale of the ‘economic catastrophe’ in the country.
SAFTU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said unemployment is the deepest crisis that South Africa is facing. He said: ‘The numbers don’t lie, we don’t believe the involved parties take the job crises as seriously as they should. As you know this is a crisis that is getting worse, every quarter we are seeing worse numbers that are coming out of Stats SA.’
He added that the numbers show that we are approaching a point of no return when it comes to the unemployment crisis. Meanwhile, mineworkers at a Lanxess chrome mine in South Africa are striking against union bashing and strongly condemn the management’s refusal to recognise the union. They are also protesting the company’s denying of organising rights.
IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), says Lanxess, which is listed on leading sustainability indices, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and the FTSE4Good, is intimidating and harassing its members.
For example, the workers are being threatened with dismissals and retrenchments for joining the union. Lanxess’s specialty chemicals and plastics global value chain employs over 19,000 workers in 25 countries. The chrome mine, which is in Rustenburg, North West Province, supplies organic leather chemicals and chrome tanning salts to the company’s leather operations in China, Germany, Italy, and South Africa.
The company is also not cooperating with a request by the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration to finalise the numbers of workers belonging to the union. NUMSA says it will fight against the deplorable behaviour that is meant to continue the abuse and exploitation of workers.
Furthermore, Lanxess mine is failing to respect health and safety standards by not reporting incidents and accidents. To force the company to comply with the law, NUMSA has written to the Department of Mineral Resources to act against the mine.
The Mokhukhwini (shack dwellers) community around the mine has joined the workers’ protest and is demanding that the mine fulfils its promises to build houses.
Instead of listening to the workers and the community demands, Lanxess mine management resorted to bullying tactics by closing electricity and water supplies to the community as ‘punishment for joining the protest’. Says Jerry Morulane, Hlanganani regional secretary for NUMSA: ‘We condemn the backward management at Lanxess and will continue to expose the abuse of workers. Their threats will not stop us from demanding our rights.’
• SAFTU condemned ‘death trains’ after last Thursday evening’s train crash, in which 320 commuters were injured, including the train crews, when one PRASA Metrorail train crashed into another stationary train at Van Riebeeck Park Station in Kempton Park.
In a statement expressing its ‘outrage’, SAFTU said: ‘The federation sends its best wishes to all the injured for a speedy and full recovery. Thankfully there were no fatalities. ‘This incident, which might easily have cost lives, is another example of the appaling quality of life for millions poor South Africans. Those fortunate enough to have a job have to spend hours struggling get to work on time in trains which are often late or cancelled, overcrowded, and dangerous.
‘As well as accidents there is a constant risk of being robbed because security on trains is so pathetic. ‘The United National Transport Union (UNTU) has rightly warned that passenger trains are “death trains” and that the situation is life-threatening. It has called on Transport Minister Blade Nzimande to suspend the services of Metrorail until it can provide a safe and reliable service.
‘For most commuters that would be no solution, as they would be forced to use increasingly expensive bus services or taxis which are even more dangerous than the trains. It would increase the chance of losing their jobs for lateness which is none of their own fault. ‘This accident follows closely a collision in August between two Metrorail trains at Selby, Johannesburg, in which 112 people, including four Metrorail workers, suffered injuries.
‘SAFTU believes that the rising number of accidents must be linked to the corruption and financial mismanagement at PRASA, which, according to the Auditor-General is on the verge of financial collapse. At the end of the last financial year it made a previously undisclosed loss of R1.7bn and the accumulated loss at the end of March 2017 was R4.4bn.
‘PRASA has refused to invest in providing a safe and efficient service for its mainly working-class passengers, while the money that could have been used to pay for this was falling into the pockets of some of its directors who were looting millions of rands of its assets. If even a small percentage of that lost R4.4bn had been spent on improving safety accidents like these could have been prevented.
‘The accidents also expose the contemptuous attitude of government and the media to the safety of working-class people. In most countries, incidents in which hundreds of people were injured would be major stories, with strong demands for immediate action to prevent any repetition.
‘They would have the same response in these countries would to the appalling death toll from violent crime, rapes and drug trafficking in poor communities. ‘This accident happened at the same time as residents of both Cape Town and Johannesburg were protesting at the nightmare of violent crime, drug dealing and gangsterism in their communities. People are becoming prisoners in their homes as gangs exchange gunfire in the streets and many bystanders have died in the crossfire.
‘Scandalously however in South Africa all these atrocities are being treated as just normal everyday life for the majority of South Africans. Protecting workers’ safety and security, and even their lives, are nowhere near the top priority for employers who drive in flashy cars from their luxury homes in gated suburbs to air-conditioned offices. And this indifference spreads to government and the media.
‘That is why so many working-class people are becoming frustrated and angry at the way their problems are ignored, and these are just the sort of issues discussed at the Working-Class Summit in July, which SAFTU hosted. ‘It resolved to unite workers, communities, the unemployed, civil society and small businesses in campaigns to highlight the shocking quality of life that workers suffer not only at work but when they are travelling to and from work and when they arrive home.’