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Union leader speaks on labour alignment at Royal Bafokeng Platinum

 Labour alignment

JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – The alignment of labour with company objectives at the black-owned and black-led Royal Bafokeng Platinum (RBPlat) is proving mutually beneficial for mineworkers and management.

National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) branch chairperson Papi Moteti, who spoke to Mining Weekly Online in a video interview on the sidelines of the presentation of results of the 6 213-employee company, said the cordial industrial relations enjoyed by the JSE-listed platinum mining company came down to leadership. (Also watch attached video).

At Tuesday’s presentation of results, RBPlat COO Nico Muller attributed the half-year (H1) productivity improvements to operational continuity and flexibility “but also [having in place] working arrangements on most public holidays during the second quarter, thanks to the support of our unions and our employees”.

Moteti put the increase in productivity that the company recorded in the six months to June 30 down to an atmosphere of openness and the transparency of management’s engagement with its workforce.

RBPlat’s labour force proved a model of stability despite the wave of worker unrest that swept through Rustenburg’s troubled platinum belt during the worst strike in South African history in the first half of this year.

Although the general strike-generated unease in the area did result in a spate of accidents during the first month of the violent five-month strike and an 11% injury-rate rise at RBPlat’s Bafokeng Rasimone Platinum Mine (BRPM), labour managed to knuckle under and take the company, headed by CEO Steve Phiri, to new levels of productivity.

The workforce put in a stint that saw overall labour productivity at BRPM improve 3% to 31.0 t per total employee costed and stoping efficiencies rise 5% to 325 m2 per crew.

“Labour aligned with operational requirements,” said Muller, with Phiri presenting H1 results that saw headline earnings a share soar 33% to 116c a share, revenue rise 18% to R1.8-billion and production increase 3% to 134 229 platinum group metal (PGM) ounces.

On volunteering to work on public holidays, Moteti commented to Mining Weekly Online that many mineworkers especially those from distant neighbouring States appreciate the chance to earn extra cash by working on public holidays, which helps the company to meet its production targets at the same time.

Moteti added that worker willingness also came against the background of NUM believing in engagement with management during what he called the articulation phase.

There was a consciousness that the business had to exist for the union to exist and of the mutual benefit prospects a business meeting its business plan targets had.

The decision of RBPlat workers to work on all public holidays except Labour Day, on May 1, was a voluntary response to lucrative management proposals.

The union was also conscious of the beneficial outcome for the workforce if business plan targets were met.

“You sacrifice and compromise and the employees benefit at the end of the day,” Moteti commented.

A smiling Moteti showed Mining Weekly Online pictures on his cell phone of rows and rows of brand new houses that RBPlat had built for its mineworkers as part of a home-ownership plan and reiterated the importance of mineworkers living close by with their families rather than in hostels.

“Decent housing or living conditions and a better salary or a living wage, these are the two things,” said Moteti, who recalled that the first black mineworker strike in 1946 was about poor living conditions and low pay.

He reiterated his call for mineworkers to be able to live in proper accommodation with their families and for the abolition of the hostel system, which he blamed for the unrest in the platinum belt.

The opportunity for RBPlat workers to own their homes was a source of wealth creation over time.

RBPlat CFO Martin Prinsloo had said in response to mining analysts queries that the company would be investing R2.8-billion in additional housing, together with its joint venture (JV) partner Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) in the next five years.

“These are the things that make sense to us,” Moteti said.

The high literacy levels of RBPlat’s workforce has ben commended in the past and some of the company’s underground rock-drill operators are holders of university degrees.

RBPlat is planning to employ another 4 000 people at its enlarged but lower capital expenditure Styldrift growth project, which is destined to be a high-powered mechanised operation, facilitated by reef thickness, which in some areas is up to 2 m, as well as orebody uniformity, which lends itself to bord-and-pillar mining.

RBPlat’s good worker relations may be a positive factor in any move by the company to consolidate platinum assets in the Rustenburg platinum belt, where JV partner Amplats is currently disposing of mines that no longer fit its strategy.

Pressed by the media on whether RBPlat was bidding for the Amplats assets, an amused Phiri responded that, “when your neighbour’s house is for sale, it doesn’t hurt to take a look”, before pointing to Prinsloo and saying in a more serious tone that the CFO was looking into possibilities.

Our Thoughts

There is an old Zulu saying “If two bulls fight, the grass dies”. It is a pity that some union leaders cannot seem to understand that adversarial approaches lead to poverty for everyone in the long run. This positive story coming out of the strife torn platinum mines is like a breath of fresh air. Well done to the role players!

– Bruniquel & Associates