Transformation basis of good labour relations

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Pretoria – Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant says the lack of transformation is one of the biggest hurdles to sound labour relations in South Africa.

Addressing the third annual Mining Lekgotla at Gallagher Estate in Midrand on Thursday, the Minister said while South Africa has good labour laws in place, the “lack of real transformation, socio-economic equity, mutual respect and trust in the work place” have contributed to the anger and frustration in the current industrial relations dynamics.

“Amid the prevailing developments, how do we explain the ever increasing wage gap between the top and the workers at the bottom end of the scale? And how do you explain the appalling living conditions of workers in the mining industry, generally speaking?

“… The challenge of unemployment, poverty and inequality feeds into the troubles that we have observed recently. The mediocre compliance with the existing labour laws also contributes to the militant stances that workers often take in dealing with collective bargaining processes,” said the Minister.

She said the recent five-month strike in the platinum belt, as well as the metal and engineering workers’ strike were more about these two aspects, rather than the labour laws.

“So we need to be very careful about tinkering with the law when the law is not the culprit. How do we bring back the integrity of negotiations, as prescribed in the Labour Relations Act (LRA)?

“Institutions dealing with industrial relations, such as the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, are sound. The proposed amendments to the LRA will strengthen these institutions and empower the inspectorate,” said the Minister.

Furthermore, she noted that the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) was the appropriate forum to deal with the recent violent developments in South Africa’s industrial relations.

“If indeed the industrial relations system requires some panel-beating, let that be informed by empirical evidence that points to which parts of the whole needs attention and how will it impact on the other parts that make up the system,” Minister Oliphant said.

Change in approach required

The Minister said a change is needed in the way labour negotiations are handled.

“Opting for a quick fix or an emotional solution will not be sustainable. The adversarial nature of South Africa’s industrial relations environment is historical, and that is important for the country to acknowledge,” she cautioned.

The Minister said South Africa’s labour market legislative framework was designed to create an enabling environment for workers and employers, and it is based on the principle of voluntary participation.

Putting women in their rightful place

Meanwhile, Minister in the Presidency Responsible for Women, Susan Shabangu, said if the country is to realise the objectives of the Mining Charter and the vision of the women of 1956, women must be given room to grow in the mining industry.

“Is it not time that we move to a situation where women do not just buy and own shares and satisfied at being portfolio investors? Does this mean women do not have the capability and capacity to own and operate these assets?

“We do have successful technical women, who have been given serious responsibilities in the industry. However, this is still like a curate’s egg... Are we training and building a cadre of successful mining engineers and managers capable of running complex operations…” said Minister Shabangu.

The lekgotla, which ends today, has been a platform for many robust discussions on issues around transformation and the industry’s role in growing the country’s economy.

The two-day symposium brings together key role players in the industry. It gives them an opportunity to thrash out ways of moving mining forward in an ever changing world. –