Africa’s mining sector is going to get through its troubles.

There have been a lot of declarations made in South Africa since last year’s tragedy at Marikana; everything from government pronouncements and union calls to pleas from business.

Much fanfare accompanied the “framework for peace and stability in the mining industry” that was unveiled in February as an attempt to solve some of the issues, but it was only between business and the unions and wasn’t even signed by all of them. And, following that there have been numerous speeches and commitments to improve relationships.

But, while these have all been well intentioned, none of them really felt as though they were going to achieve their stated goals. There was a sense that there was not enough buy in; that when one party was ready to sit down the others weren’t and through everything there was a decided lack of leadership on the part of government.

Today that changed.

Under the guidance of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and convened by the country’s president Jacob Zuma, the Mining consultative forum that met in Pretoria today had a more grown up feel to it.

Firstly, the forum included not only leadership from business and the unions but also the ministers of Finance, Labour and Mineral Resources.

Secondly, in the “draft framework agreement for a sustainable mining industry entered into by organized labour, organized business and government” that was released on Friday afternoon, there is a clear understanding of just how precariously placed the mining sector is.

But, more importantly, there seems to be an understanding that the solution needs to be multifaceted and involve everyone. As the preamble to the framework states, South Africa as a whole “can ill afford business as usual”.

The document points out that “the mining industry today faces tough choices”

It notes that, “global economic growth will be lower. Our largest trading partner – Europe – is still in recession and the composition of growth in China is changing. The result is that demand for South African exports, including exports of gold, platinum and other commodities is lower. Export earnings are lower, sustainability of mines is under threat, and government revenues are likely to be lower.”

Gone, however, are the snide comments about business not pulling its weight in terms of transformation that were evident in Minister of Mineral Resources, Susan Shabangu’s budget address; equally absent is the antagonism that has been evident in many of the comments made by both labour and business about one another.

The framework includes commitments by government, business and labour, to improve living conditions for workers, strengthen safety and security and improve labour relations.

Government, among other things, committed to improving the effectiveness of legal and regulatory compliance mechanisms and ensuring that there was consistency to the application thereof.

It committed to act decisively to enforce the rule of law and maintain peace during strikes, while also saying it would work with both business and labour to ” explore various instruments to address any possible unintended constitutional consequences in the application of the majoritarian principle including but not limited to introducing an instrument in law to balance the exercise of the majoritarian principle in a manner that does not unfairly prejudice other parties, if found appropriate.”

Government agreed to accelerate efforts to upgrade human settlements in mining towns by all spheres of government. And business committed to help in that goal.

Other significant elements of the commitments were a focus on ensuring better financial literacy among workers, transforming the migrant labour system and creating a Mine Crime Combatting forum.

While labour committed to, among other things, help to manage workplace conflict by identifying and dealing with its root causes, and to denounce violence and take active measures to eliminate violence and intimidation.

While all of these commitments and the others included in the document represent significant strides in the right direction, there is still a massive difference between writing them down and actually getting them done.

Encouragingly, as part of the agreement, all three parties have committed to, “for the next 12 months, meet on a quarterly basis, convened by the Deputy President” in a bid to ensure that many of these actions take place”.

Another encouraging sign is that one of the critical problem areas, the living conditions of communities around many of the mines, has been fast tracked as an issue that needs urgent response.

To this end, “Eight mining areas have been identified for intervention and further categorised into those requiring immediate and urgent intervention. The Rustenburg platinum belt or area was identified as one of those that requires immediate intervention. Partnerships between Government and Business have already been identified in prioritised areas.”

Additionally, “Long-term policy measures will be put in place to support growth and stability and deal with areas contributing to policy. In addition uncertainty in sector regulations, tax policy, improvements to labour sending areas and re-skilling of workers, among others will be addressed.”

None of these commitments are a silver bullet nor is there any guarantee that they will actually achieve what they are intended to. One of the biggest challenges is going to be to get buy in from the one group that was not in attendance – the miners themselves. One could argue that is what the unions are there to do but, there remains a concern that the unions no longer have quite as much influence over their members as they once did.

Indeed, to ram this point home, while these talks were ongoing, workers at Anglo American Platinum’s Thembelani mine began a sit in, because of the suspension of four shop stewards for inappropriate behaviour.

Judging purely on the commitments listed this afternoon, pulling South Africa’s mining sector through these troubled times is going to require a massive effort from all parties, but, for the first time, at least to this commentator, there is a sense that everyone may finally by trying to pull in the same direction.

The full list of commitments as set out in the agreement are:

3. Roles and Commitments

3.1. Through various processes, stakeholders in mining identified their key strengths and resources as the basis for their commitments. The core task now is to ensure more coherent, urgent and visible implementation.

3.2. Government commits to:

3.2.1. Improve the effectiveness of mechanisms for legal and regulatory compliance.

3.2.2. Ensure that there is always a resilient framework for labour relations.

3.2.3. Ensure consistency and certainty in development and application of regulation.

3.2.4. Accelerate efforts to upgrade human settlements in mining towns by all spheres of government.

3.2.5. Mobilise technical expertise to identify and address the basic factors underlying workplace conflict and to improve negotiations structures at all levels.

3.2.6. Support and implement initiatives that will mitigate against lower growth given the negative impact on employment creation and retention.

3.2.7. Continue to improve core infrastructure to support production growth in the sector.

3.2.8. Improve capacity to intervene effectively and increase delivery.

3.2.9. Communities will be encouraged to support improved human settlements and social cohesion and solidarity amongst all the stakeholders in the mining industry.

3.2.10. Initiate a process to transform the migrant labour system.

3.3. Business commits to:

3.3.1. Work with government and labour to identify and address factors behind workplace conflict.

3.3.2. Improve internal security measures and consistently implement them at workplaces

3.3.3. Negotiate in the workplace and the industry in ways that support long-term development and constructive, peaceful labour relations.

3.3.4. Assist with resources and technical support for upgrading human settlements around mining towns.

3.3.5. Support a constructive and sustainable adaptation to the current economic realities, maintaining and growing investment, production and employment as far as possible.

3.3.6. Assist workers with financial literacy and financial planning.

3.3.7. Adhere to regulatory compliance.

3.3.8. Support the process to transform the migrant labour system.

3.4. Labour commits to:

3.4.1. Help to manage workplace conflict by identifying and dealing with its root causes, and by ensuring that members know about this agreement and initiatives to bring about real change.

3.4.2. Support the changes in labour relations at the workplace and sectoral level needed for more constructive, peaceful and representative bargaining and dispute settlement.

3.4.3. Negotiate in the workplace and the industry in ways that support long-term development, and work with members to end violence and avoid stoppages.

3.4.4. Education of workers on labour relation legislation, company policies and acceptable practices for workplace conduct.

3.4.5. Work with Government and Business to improve investor sentiment.

3.4.6. Work with Government and Business in developing community and residential areas near the mines.

3.4.7. Support the process to transform the migrant labour system.

4. Ensuring Security, Law and Order

4.1. It is important to ensure that law and order prevails and that persons and property are protected so as to provide a conducive environment for development.

4.2. Parties reaffirm their commitment to the Framework for Peace and Stability in the Mining Industry that was signed on 25 February 2013.

4.3. Government commits to:

4.3.1. Act decisively to enforce the rule of law, maintain peace during strikes and other protests relating to labour disputes, ensure protection of life, property and the advancement of the rights of all citizens, including crime prevention measures.

4.3.2. Ensure that law enforcement agencies act in a manner that is fair, impartial and objective and that all care is taken to protect life and property.

4.3.3. Put in place adequate and appropriate capacity in the form of detectives and specialist prosecution teams to prosecute cases on violence, intimidation, assault and murder.

4.3.4. Prioritise the investigation and finalisation of cases arising from lawlessness in and around mining areas, in appropriate designated courts.

4.3.5. Take measures to stop the carrying of weapons during protest action or strikes.

4.3.6. Enforce municipal by-laws related to gatherings and demonstrations.

4.3.7. Establish a Mine Crime Combating Forum (MCCF).

4.3.8. Develop protocols for security and law enforcement in mining areas together with Business and Labour.

4.4. Business commits to:

4.4.1. Take measures to protect staff members from violence and intimidation and to ensure that security personnel act in accordance with the law at all times.

4.4.2. Participate in the Mine Crime Combating Forum (MCCF).

4.4.3. Take all legal steps to mitigate against unprotected labour actions.

4.4.4. Provide venues for police operations where required.

4.4.5. Work with Government and Labour in developing protocols for security and law enforcement in mining areas.

4.4.6. Where possible, inform police of all planned and unplanned strikes and protests.

4.4.7. Enforce the principle of no carrying or harbouring of any weapons on company property at any time in line with existing laws of the country.

4.5. Labour commits to:

4.5.1. Support on-going interventions that would address workplace conflict and build cordial industrial relations at a sector and firm level.

4.5.2. Denounce violence and take active measures to eliminate violence and intimidation.

4.5.3. Work with law enforcement authorities to prevent labour disputes from becoming violent, including informing the police timeously of any protest or strike action that could potentially require policing.

4.5.4. Participate in Mine Crime Combating Forum (MCCF) and enable MCCF engagement with mining communities.

4.5.5. Respect the rule of law and all due processes addressing criminal activity.

4.5.6. Desist from violence, intimidation and murder and actively discourage members from taking the law into their own hands; to prevent single incidents from spiralling out of control.

4.5.7. Condemn and prevent the carrying of weapons during strike action and take reasonable measures to ensure that members do not carry weapons during strike action.

4.5.8. No carrying or harbouring of any weapons on company property at any time in line with existing laws of the country.

4.5.9. Adhere to legal procedures for marches and protest action.

4.5.10. Ensure that there will be peaceful demonstrations and respect for people and property.

5. Strengthening Labour Relations

5.1. It is the right of workers to join unions, to declare disputes, to strike and to engage in any form of peaceful protest. These rights must be practiced in accordance with the law. The rights of others to similarly engage in such activities must be recognised.

5.2. The Labour Relations Act (LRA) lays the primary foundation for labour relations in South Africa. This would require more active labour market policy intervention that supports organised and improved collective bargaining structures at a sector and at workplace level in line with the objectives of the LRA.

5.3. The principle of majoritarianism remains one of the main pillars in the construct of our labour market regulatory system. The stakeholders in the labour market have lived with this principle for many years. While it has served the system of our industrial relations very well, some have raised concerns of its unintended consequences including but limited to the possibility that it may infringe on the constitutional rights of other organisations and individuals’ freedom of association. These concerns warrant a need for evaluation.

5.4. Government commits to:

5.4.1. Work with Business and Labour to resolve issues speedily through existing legally mandated institutions.

5.4.2. Advocate speedy resolution of labour disputes in the best interest of members and South Africa.

5.4.3. Work with Business and Labour to fast-track resolution of disputes over membership status, verification of membership figures and recognition agreements.

5.4.4. To stabilise the current labour relations environment through working together in developing a protocol for verification of union membership.

5.4.5. Government will work in partnership with Business and Labour to develop capacity of union leaders and workers on labour relations matters.

5.4.6. Working with Business and Labour, government will explore various instruments to address any possible unintended constitutional consequences in the application of the majoritarian principle including but not limited to introducing an instrument in law to balance the exercise of the majoritarian principle in a manner that does not unfairly prejudice other parties, if found appropriate.

5.5. Business commits to:

5.5.1. Respect the rule of law and the legal framework in labour relations matters.

5.5.2. When taking decisions, to take account of the broader context in South Africa, in particular the need to reduce poverty, inequality and unemployment.

5.5.3. To respect agreements and legal obligations concluded through proper forums, chambers, councils and similar forums.

5.5.4. Contributes to creating cordial relations between unions in the sector.

5.5.5. Employers will follow proper labour relations procedures in the spirit of the law.

5.5.6. Resolve labour disputes as speedily as possible in best interest of members and South Africa.

5.5.7. Commit to the development of a pre-negotiations framework.

5.5.8. Recognise cultural diversity in the workplace.

5.6. Labour commits to:

5.6.1. All labour disputes will be managed within the legal framework of the country.

5.6.2. Trade unions will respect the rights of employers to take the necessary steps, within the confines of the law, against workers involved in unprotected strike action, violence and intimidation.

5.6.3. Resolve labour disputes as speedily as possible in the best interest of members and South Africa.

5.6.4. Take responsibility to educate members on labour relations issues.

5.6.5. Work with Government and Business to verify membership data and to facilitate recognition agreements that are fair and reasonable.

5.6.6. Allow for freedom of association and to respect the right of workers to join any union of their choice without fear, intimidation or violence.

5.6.7. Commit to the development of a pre-negotiations framework.

5.6.8. Ensure that they have the appropriate infrastructure and practices to adequately represent their members at all times.

By Alexandre Laurent

Alexandre Laurentl is working in the jewelry and investment gold since 2002. Alexandre graduated from The Normandy School of Business and from the University of Perpignan a Bachelor of economics in 1995.

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