Labour unrest compounds problems

Labour unrest compounds problems

STRATEGIES to resolve SA’s mining industry issues will need to include drastic moves towards a settled labour force and a proactive dismantling of the migrant labour system.

“The effects of migrant labour are eroding the ability of mines to forge sustainable, skilled and contented communities around their operations,” says Roger Dixon, chairman of consulting engineering firm, SRK Consulting SA.

Dixon says much of the current labour unrest in the industry can be owed to inappropriate labour decisions taken by mines over recent years, and lack of government service provision in mine communities. It has become increasingly clear that mines’ policy of offering workers a livingout allowance for accommodating themselves has had unforeseen negative impacts, and has often exacerbated social problems in areas around mines, he argues.

“The migrant labour system has endured, placing severe financial stresses on mineworkers who still try to support a life at the mine and a life back in their home village. The social and economic problems that this situation fosters have been key to recent unrest, and need to be tackled directly.”

He questions the viability of suggestions from the Presidency’s mining consultative forum that mining rosters be adjusted to allow workers more home visits each year.

“It is mooted that a system of eight weeks on and two weeks off might be helpful, but this is likely to create more problems than it solves.

“We should be creating the conditions to allow the workforce to settle in and around the mine environment on a permanent basis, and to focus their lives and future there.

“The problem is complex, and the profitability and life span of many mines rules out some of the better options for mineworkers’ accommodation. But the solution needs to involve all stakeholders, including local government, making their contribution toward a long-term strategy for permanent urban settlements with secondary industries.”

Diversifying of local economies needed to be promoted, so that communities were not overreliant on the mine itself and could outlive the mines they initially serviced. This aim, says Dixon, was already an important element of the Minerals Resources Development Act and is vital in leveraging SA’s future economy on its current mining activities.

Chris Jacobs, conflict resolution expert at business performance company OIM, says SA’s labour relations are at a defining moment in the country’s history.

“Employers need to re-establish constructive relationships with all employees, not only union leaders, and manage both legislative challenges as well as economic demands. It is imperative that sound employee relations strategies be developed rather than short-term reactive tactics.”