UNITED: Siwve Sopoha an EFF member from Marikana comes to Johannesburg in Support of his community members, Jonas Felling and Nathaniel Baase, who were both miners at Marikana. Photo: Luca Kotton
by Palesa Tshandu and Luca Kotton
Legal ballot voting in the industrial relations sector can be used to prevent violent strike action and promote solidarity among mine-workers, according to Prof Edward Webster.
“A ballot means that there is a democratic mandate that will pre-empt strikes,” suggests Webster who was speaking at phase two of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry panel discussion held at Wits University yesterday.
The discussion forms part of a series of seminars that examines violence in the industrial relations sector, an example of which led to the killing of 34 mine-workers at Lonmin mine in Marikana on August 16, 2012.
According to Webster, a Wits sociology professor, the process of ballot voting will be used as a tool for mine-workers to have some control in the decision-making process of strike action. Ultimately, this process will result in a negotiated outcome among mine-workers and their employers.
Power inequalities must be addressed
Society Work and Development Institute (SWOP) fellow and researcher Chrispen Chinguno suggests that the democratisation of the mining sector is necessary to address power inequalities that exist among mine-workers which ultimately promotes a culture of violence.
Chinguno challenges the concept of a ballot system drawing on the participation of miners as integral to the process of striking. He said, “a ballot works as an individual vote, striking needs participation”.
According to Webster, the introduction of the ballot system in the industrial relations sector offers an alternative approach to the prevalence of violence, as it calls for miners to act in a democratic manner when addressing conflict.
The suggestion of a ballot for miners was met with mixed reactions. One miner said: “We know that they will break us, they want to divide us, and we know this.’’
In the coming weeks the Commission will host other discussions on the violence that occurred at Marikana.
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Ian Macun, director of collective bargaining at the Department of Labour and Advocate Geoff Budlender were two of the panelists at Wits yesterday. Photo: Lutho Mtongana
A strike fund from trade unions should be a prerequisite for striking miners to maintain their basic living conditions, according to the dean of humanities at the University of Cape Town, Prof Sakhela Buhlungu.
“Levels of desperation kick in immediately after going on strike,” said Buhlungu. He emphasised the plight of mine workers who bear the repercussions of not earning salaries for the duration of a strike.
Buhlungu was one of three panelists speaking at at panel discussion hosted on the Marikana commission of inquiry held at Wits on Monday afternoon. Family members of the victims of Marikana were also present at the panel discussion.
The panel was the first of a three-part seminar, held by the Marikana commission. Open to public for the first time since investigations into the deaths of 34 Lonmin miners in August 2012 began, the seminar included members of the commission and other parties involved.
Department of labour spokesperson Ian Macum said many workers were dissatisfied.
[pullquote]The worrying trend in the post-Marikana era is that there has no been greater consensus that the law does not offer solutions to bypassing situations[/pullquote]
“Dissatisfaction can have a number of causes, which thread the problems that face trade unions”, said Macun.
Subcontracted workers enjoy substandard conditions at the mines, which triggers discontent among workers. However, full-time workers also endure extreme conditions but for lesser pay, Macun suggested
The rivalry between the National Union of Mineworkers and Association of Mineworkers Construction Union shows that the unions have been unsuccessful in maintaining confidence among their workers, suggested Macun.
He said the prevalence of dissent results in conflict among trade unions and contributes to the loss of law and order.
The panelists said the issues of workers bypassing the trade unions showed the flaws that are present in the system.
“The worrying trend in the post-Marikana era is that there has no been greater consensus that the law does not offer solutions to bypassing situations,” said Macun.
On April 9, the commission will host its second seminar focusing on labour migrancy, and its third will be hosted on April 16, focusing on strike violence.