Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs

One of the consequences of Marikana is that the mining industry will be restructured and more than 10000 will be retrenched in the first quarter of 2013.

This is according to Bheki Sibiya, CEO of the Chamber of Mines who was speaking at a lunch hosted by the Cape Town Press Club on Friday.

Sibiya said the mining industry in South Africa is now “literally between a rock and a hard place” as they have to deal with shareholders who want reasonable returns and have been negatively impacted by recent developments. Their demands will be at logger-heads with a fractured, frustrated and at times militant labour force which will make 2013 a difficult year for wage negotiations in the industry.

“My view is we’re going to struggle again to get NUM [National Union of Mineworkers] and Amcu to partner in negotiations. The mining industry is currently centralising wage negotiations for coal, gold and platinum mining and therefore more industrial action is a strong possiblity,” he said.

He believes, however, the strikes may be less intense in the latter part of the year because of the retrenchments in the first three months of 2013.

Sibiya, who spoke frankly about the challenges in the mining industry and government’s lack of support, said the level of wages for miners in South Africa is high — not in absolute terms, but relative to productivity. “But productivity has become a swearword that we don’t want to say. We compare ourselves with Australia with regard to wages, but we don’t compare ourselves to them when it comes to productivity,” he said.

He called the rivalry between the NUM and Amcu “extremely serious”, saying, “Amcu believes the wind is behind them and the fate is ahead of them and therefore they want to occupy the same space as NUM has been occupying”.

However he is not concerned that Amcu will be successful over the short term.

The ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung is going to be crucial for the mining industry, because that’s where a decision on the nationalisation of mines will be taken, Sibiya said.

“Nationalisation — that dreaded N-word — cost the country billions of rand which could have been invested and created jobs. Many investors held back and said, ‘let’s wait for Mangaung’ and for that reason we as a country are poorer,” he said. “There isn’t “one single example of a country where nationalisation worked.

He also hoped the 4 500 ANC delegates at Mangaung will apply their minds to a number of things when they’re choosing the next ANC leader. “They’ll have to think about the exemplary character of the president of the country,” he said. “Can I, for example, say to my son, ‘look at that president — I’m proud of him.’ But I’m not so sure I can say that.”

Sibiya criticised government for not guarding the mining industry which he described as the crown jewels of South Africa. Other countries, such as Saudi Arabia with their rich oil resources, the United States with its IT industry and Germany’s automobile industry protect these “crown jewels”.

“We just wish that the powers that be see us as one of South Africa’s key competitive advantages,” Sibiya said. “Let’s rather feed the goose that is laying the golden eggs and make sure it’s well-nourished and lays more eggs. Let’s not rip it apart and say let’s get the eggs before they are laid.”

 

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