Recently workers had been expressing their grievances in protests not organised and led by a trade union, Ian Macun, collective bargaining director in the labour department said in Johannesburg.
“Workers may choose to bypass their unions where they become dissatisfied with their unions and the organisers. There was clearly an element of this at the strike at Lonmin which led to the August (2012) shootings.”
He was speaking at the University of Witwatersrand, where the Farlam inquiry held its first fact-finding seminar under the theme “Bargaining arrangements in platinum”.
“In analysis of the Marikana (strike) the sheer size of the workplace in mining complicates communication between unions and members. There are different reasons for workers to bypass trade unions.
“There has been an increase in the last two to three years in unprocedural strike action… .”
The commission was mandated by the President Jacob Zuma to investigate the deaths of 44 people during unrest at Lonmin’s platinum mining operations at Marikana, near Rustenburg, North West. Police shot dead 34 people, mostly striking mineworkers, wounded 70 and arrested 250 at Marikana on August 16, 2012. In the preceding week, 10 people, including two policemen and two security guards, were killed.
The inquiry was also tasked with examining the causes of violence in the mining sector.
The second phase of the inquiry, which has held public hearings since 2012, would involve public seminars. The conferences are expected to enable the commission to obtain information and advice from experts, and open these matters up for public debate.
Prof Sakhela Buhlungu, dean of the faculty of humanities at the University of Cape Town, said unions had “done a decent job” in improving working conditions and wages in post-apartheid South Africa.
“Before Marikana, the bulk of the workforce was represented by one large union, the National Union of Mineworkers. It had a virtual monopoly of that segment of the workforce, which is not ordinarily a problem.
“It becomes a problem once the union does not function optimally. It becomes a problem for workers because they have nowhere else to go.”
Following the Marikana violence, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union had become the dominant union at several platinum mining companies, including Lonmin.
Buhlungu said workers had been given a “political voice”.
“Most parties want to be seen to be giving voice to the issues that workers have,” he said.
The inquiry’s head of evidence leaders, Geoff Budlender, said the second phase would be different from the first one, which was dominated by court-style hearings.
“We have very broad topics which the commission is interested in, not in an abstract sense, but because they may be related to the events of that week of August 2012.
“A great deal of information can be collected other than the traditional judicial method of hearing witnesses and having them cross-examined,” he said.
On Tuesday, North West air wing commander Salmon Vermaak was expected to be on the stand when the public hearings resumed in Pretoria.
Unlike all other police officers who had testified at the inquiry, Vermaak would be led in giving his testimony by evidence leaders. Other police officers had been led by SAPS lawyers. Vermaak would be cross-examined by the police’s lawyers.