Average workers feel alone – lawyer

FILE PICTURE: Miners. Picture: Michel Bega

FILE PICTURE: Miners. Picture: Michel Bega

Average workers, particularly in the mining sector, feel alone because government has neglected their needs, John Brand, director of law firm Bowman Gilfillan, said on Tuesday.

“The average worker feels that they have been deserted by government, unions, and employers… and that nobody cares,” he said at the Federation of Unions of SA’s collective bargaining conference in Roodepoort.

“We have to find a way of driving collective bargaining back into the workplace.”

He said often too much emphasis was placed on monetary wage rather than the social wage. He said social wage deprivation had built up as mine workers went home to a shanty or rundown establishment, with no electricity, no sewerage, and sometimes no proper sanitation.

The social wage needed to be addressed. A social wage is the amenities provided from public funds like healthcare, education, and sanitation.

Members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) at Lonmin, Amplats, and Impala Platinum embarked on a strike on January 23, demanding a R12,500 basic salary for miners. The strike entered its fourth week on Monday.

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration has been mediating talks between the union and the platinum companies since January 24.

Brand said there were problems in the collective bargaining process that needed to be addressed. There was a need to create value in collective bargaining to improve the negotiation process.

“We have to create value… and then divide it [the money] fairly. We have got to acknowledge that we have a collective bargaining problem and structural problems that need to be addressed,” he said without elaborating.

“You can only create value at the location… We need to build on difference and create value.”

International Labour Organisation SA director Vic van Vuuren said South Africa had a huge social deficit. People needed to support the National Development Plan (NDP), an economic policy framework aimed at eliminating poverty and inequality by 2030.

“I don’t believe we have given enough credence to the NDP… We need to focus on the NDP.”

He remained concerned that sometimes processes took too long to be implemented.

“There are always summits with drafts but we don’t know where it goes, what happens to it.”

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said the NDP was complete and the time had come for its implementation. He recognised that workers, particularly miners, needed better living conditions.

“All of us need to do what we can to reintroduce stability… so that that part of the community can continue to create jobs, continue with investments… but also give workers better living conditions,” he told the conference.

“I think we are not working hard enough to address the migrant labour issues.”

Change was easy to speak about but the reality was different, said Gordhan, who would be presenting his annual Budget to Parliament next week.

He spoke in detail about the G20 summit in Sydney, Australia, this weekend, saying the global economy and growth would be discussed.

“We are all looking for growth, probably the most difficult commodity to find.”

He said the G20 would look at imbalances that needed to be corrected, and structural reforms at the International Monetary Fund.

The conference heard that wage gaps between executives and average workers continued to grow. Gordhan said his Cabinet colleague Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba was working on a document on acceptable wage gaps between workers and executives. It would be ready soon.

Economist Mike Schussler told delegates South Africa was a middle income country, where only 59 percent of households had someone working. He said the country needed to look at how poverty could be eradicated.



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