Susan Shabangu, Who are you to blame these nationwide strikes on Impala?

Business Day reported you on Wednesday (3 Oct.) blaming Implats for the wild and seemingly out-of-control strikes we’ve seen since early this year. You saw the company’s recent wage agreement – the somewhat second in 2012 – with its respective employees’ representatives as a “grave error”.

My dear minister – if you worked in the mining industry you would understand. As a shareholder in Lonmin, I think Cyril Ramaphosa is probably the best person worth listening to because of his shareholding in the industry. It is further worrying that NUM, too, puts the blame of the country-wide strikes at the door of Impala.

The now-not-so-popular giant mining industry union and the federation union, Cosatu, claimed mine employers, particularly Implats bosses, “must take full responsibility for all the strikes that are spreading in the mining industry”. While I agree with this claim to a certain extent, I, however, need to add that had it not been very worrying reports against NUM in the mining industry and its fight with the new-kid-on-the-bloc AMCU this mess of strikes would probably not be at the current level: uncontrollable.

So, unions, as much as government are to blame. In fact, you (government, unions and mining companies) are all in this mess together and blaming one another – mine bosses, that is – will not make go away the current situation where people are striking because they want what Cosatu and affiliated unions believe is a “minimum living wage”.

Minister, to want to blame Implats – unlike Lonmin where the situation got so out of hand and out of control and even made worse by your government’s deployment to the mine of the security forces and the military – is just bullshit! In fact, I am of the opinion that Implants did what it thought was best and wanted to avoid ‘another Marikana’ as has been promised by other striking unions.

You further accuse Implats of having negotiated out of the wage agreement of about two years (if I remember well). This, you were quoted as saying, was to “undermine” the established agreements in place. “You can’t agree on a process and then immediately move out of that process. That is why we have this challenge now”, you said. It now appears to be this “unilateral” decision by Impala and the mine industry in general which you seem to have a problem with.

While you have as much right to freedom of expression, I think your concern is ill-informed because this – negotiation outside of the established wage agreements – is exactly what happened at Lonmin following its illegal strike that went on for over a month.

At the time of its negotiations outside of these established wage agreement of mostly two years – no-one said anything. In fact, many government officials – the President of the country, NUM and Cosatu, among others – were very happy at the settlement reached.

It is worth noting that this settlement was reached without the assistance of neither Cosatu, NUM or even AMCU. It was the employees themselves (through outsiders party to the established wage agreement of about two years or so) that negotiated with Lonmin management. So to now want to call Impala’s agreement a “grave error” is, in my opinion, simply ridiculous.

Need I remind you of something, dear minister. Your dearest Cosatu has called of some miners to open the negotiations even before the agreed and established wage agreement lapses. What do you call that?

Why appear to blame Implats for allegedly negotiating outside of the established wage agreements while keep quiet about Cosatu’s demand to some industry members that negotiations be opened now?

I think Implats response was the best it could do at the time and given the experience of an illegal strike it experienced early this year.

Furthermore, and lastly, I agree with Implats that you probably have no idea of the “extremely complex and multifaceted” environment and condition under which mining companies operate (emphasis added). As a result, you should probably stay out of this one.

IMPORTANT: Although I have been working in the mining industry for about full four years but not specifically underground – I think my response is well informed. Well, you’re welcome to differ, though. Oh, I don’t work for Impala.

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