Coal sector abandons centralised bargaining process for wage negotiations

Trade unions will now have to negotiate deals with individual companies as opposed to pursuing a sector-wide wage agreement.

BDLive has reported that employers in the coal industry have withdrawn from the centralised bargaining process for wage negotiations, which took place under the auspices of the Minerals Council SA (MCSA) and have informed trade unions that wages will be negotiated at company level in the future.  This means that, from now on, the various trade unions representing members in the coal industry will have to conduct wage negotiations with each mining company separately as opposed to the centralised bargaining framework in which members of the council (previously known as the Chamber of Mines) negotiated in a joint sector forum.  

The MCSA has since said that ownership in the coal industry has changed so much in the past 25 years that centralised bargaining no longer makes sense.  The fact that there are now 21 different mining companies that together owned the entire coal industry compared to the six that controlled the sector in the 1980s, this moved was the only way forward.  

“The last rounds or two of the centralised coal negotiations have involved only seven of the 21 employers.  Secondly, even where bargaining has been centralised, different agreements have been reached with different companies and sometimes even with different mines owned by the same company,” an MCSA spokesperson was quoted as saying in the BDlive article. 

The four recognised trade unions that negotiate coal wages through the MCSA - Solidarity  NUM, Uasa and Numsa - are unanimously opposed to the decision, with the latter reportedly appealing to parliament’s portfolio committee on mineral resources and energy to intervene on their behalf.  

Solidarity has since released a statement condemning the move because centralised bargaining system has been part of the South African mining industry for decades, and is highly rated by many employees because it promotes unity and it is a platform to collectively offer strong resistance to exploitation.

“We are disappointed with the decision because Solidarity believes that a centralised process offers a better platform for bargaining. We made it clear at our previous meeting that we are not in favour of the decision, but last week we received a final notice,” says Riaan Visser, Solidarity’s deputy general secretary for mining, agriculture and cement, in a statement.

According to Visser, all unions have been flexible in the collective bargaining process up to now, even showing an understanding for companies that are struggling financially and, on occasion being prepared to even accept a lower offer.