Tim Trollip correctly defined collective bargaining in South Africa “as a method and a process of conducting negotiations about wages, other terms of employment, social and labour interests”.   He stressed the importance of including societal issues because our society is “in ferment and experiencing turbulent and changing values few of which are shared by the principal actors and this raises the ethical dilemma of what ideology or understanding might bind the system together”.

Carol Paton is a writer at large and article Effects of Lonmin wage talks could reach beyond mining was first published in Business Day and BDlive today.   Read the entire article by clicking on the link [free registration required].   These are only some random extracts.

IN THE next day or so, workers, trade unions and Lonmin management will sit down to discuss the demand by rock-drill operators for a basic wage of R12,500 a month.

The outcome will affect the entire industry and possibly also the wage levels of workers outside of it.

Already, workers at Impala Platinum, who in April received an increase on their basic pay of R2,000 after a six-week strike, and who are keeping a watchful eye on events at Lonmin, have indicated they may have further wage demands to make.

But industry insiders and analysts are unanimous: it is unlikely that Lonmin can afford to more than double the basic wage for a large portion of underground workers and significantly raise wages for others.

The problem is that, so far, Lonmin has been held hostage by its workforce.   Its strategy, following the massacre of workers two weeks ago, was to insist that everyone sign up for peace before talks on wages could begin.   A lengthy process to draw up a peace accord followed.

That strategy has failed.   Worker representatives and the Association of Mining and Construction Workers Union (Amcu) have stood fast: let’s talk about the R12,500 wage first and everything else can come later.

Other “rules” and established practices of collective bargaining have also been broken.   Lonmin has decided to pay workers for the five days during the strike that the government declared to be days of mourning.   While this is the right moral choice under the circumstances, it is unprecedented that workers should be paid for strike time.

However, the cumulative effect of all these exceptions has been to leave the collective bargaining system in tatters.   It is also a good indication of the balance of power at play: workers, prepared to use violence, have in effect held the company to ransom so far, winning each of their demands and conceding nothing.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions’s (Cosatu’s) congress — held every three years — starts in less than two weeks’ time.   Among the proposals up for discussion is a drive to further tighten the system of bargaining councils, which at present are voluntary associations.

The Cosatu secretariat wants “wall-to-wall mandatory sectoral bargaining”, it says, which will not allow employers to opt out of the arrangement.

A survey of worker attitudes carried out this year by Cosatu’s think tank, Naledi, confirms that there is broad dissatisfaction over the wage increases that unions won over the past year.

About 60% said they were unhappy with the wage awards that had been negotiated by unions, even though these were, in all cases, above inflation.

The Naledi survey also points out that Cosatu members score significantly better increases than non-members and already enjoy a significant premium on their earnings.   In the case of elementary workers, for example, the survey says that 20% of Cosatu members earn more than R5,000 a month, whereas among non-members, the proportion is only 5%.

Among skilled workers — which is where rock-drill operators are situated — 40% of Cosatu members earn more than R5,000, while only 20% of non-Cosatu members reach that level.

When comparing wage levels between workers in the mining and other sectors, it is also clear that mineworkers are among the better paid.

About 55% of NUM members earn more than R5,000, making them the best-paid unionised private-sector workers.

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA has the next most well-off members, with 42% of them earning more than R5,000.

The poorest are the members of the South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union — mainly workers in retail stores — where only 20% earn more than R5,000, and the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union, where only 10% of workers earn more than R5,000.

The minimum-wage debate will be making a comeback at this month’s Cosatu congress, with a proposal on the table from the Cosatu secretariat that the federation campaign for a national minimum wage of R2,800 as a starting point to work towards — a wage more closely aligned to the minimum-living level, which by various measures is R4,000 to R5,000 a month.

The idea here would be specifically to push up wages in the domestic and farm sectors, where sectoral determinations stand at R1,639 for domestic workers and R1,503 for farm workers.