South African mining stakeholders concluded a two-day conference Thursday in Johannesburg with the government calling for industry changes to avoid crippling strikes. Discussions centered on a charter that forces mining companies to commit to improve conditions for their workers. Workers’ unions are calling for heavy penalties for mining companies that fail to meet the targets.
The 2014 mining conference, popularly known as the Lekgotla, ended just before the second anniversary of the Marikana massacre, during which police shot and killed 34 striking miners on August 16, 2012.
Taking center stage during the conference were ways to end the constant strikes that have almost crippled the mining industry in South Africa.
Minister of Mineral Resources Ngoako Ramatlhodi called on the mining companies to speed up their goals, especially improving the plight of their workers and the communities around the mines.
“In those mines, which involved locals, we have not had a strike. The others have been hit by the strike for more than five months, but these particular ones the strike has not happened, a very clear correlation of, when you do right things you get good benefits on the spot,” said Ramatlhodi.
Mine workers, though, were more radical. They demanded punitive measures against mine owners that fail to comply with the charter requiring them, among other things, to implement employee-share ownership plans, build decent houses for employees and develop communities around the mines.
Peter Bailey, an executive member of the National Union of Mineworkers, said, “There are still many occupational disease exposures taking place in the mining sector. There [are] also many fatalities. Those who do not comply with the mining charter, if they don’t correct the wrongs and the injustices that they are busy with, then their licenses must be revoked.”
The absence from the conference of the biggest union in the platinum sector, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union [AMCU], raised eyebrows. AMCU’s recent five-month strike cost mining companies more than $2 billion in earnings while employees lost more than $! billion in salaries.
Despite the challenges, Mike Teke, the president of the Chamber of Mines in South Africa said there is still hope for a bright future in the mining sector.
“Well, I’m positive about the future of the mining industry. Number one, you must understand that when we talk about the mining industry, you may say because we have had strikes, we have had Marikana, and the economic cycle is not favorable for some of the commodity sectors, but there will be recovery, and the strikes have come to an end," he said. "I think we must be optimistic that we are working together to try and take it to the next level.”
The mining industry remains a critical component of South Africa’s economy. It has created more than one million jobs, and it contributes about one-fifth of the country’s gross domestic product.