“The principle function of government is not to mediate between labour and the employers. One of the things we need to look at is changing the laws, which gives us ‘teeth’ – if the parties fail to resolve their disputes, at some point, the state should be able to find a legal way of resolving those issues,” Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi told CNBC Africa in an exclusive interview.
“What I’ve realised is that arbitration seems to be only on the basis of willingness by the parties, in other words, compulsory arbitration – the legislation that I’ve looked at is silent on the issue. It does not mean we may not be able to do it, in fact, I may have to try it if all else fails and then see what the court does. It’s something I’m looking at.”
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A TASK TEAM
Ramatlhodi recently embarked on a number of consultative engagements with key stakeholders in South Africa’s mining sector in a bid to end the ongoing platinum strike – the longest in the country’s history.
(READ MORE: Changes in S.Africa's labour laws in light of platinum strikes)
He also announced the establishment of an intergovernmental technical team to work with labour and business. The task team includes officials from the departments of mineral resources, labour and the National Treasury.
“These are technical people who crunch figures, they can simulate solutions – it’s a highly skilled team. It gives me the capability to intervene, so to speak, and that’s what we are doing. We are not negotiating. What we are doing is to assist the parties to negotiate because the strike has taken so long, you find that attitudes and positions have hardened,” Ramatlhodi explained.
“Our job is to put a bit of oil on the wheels so that there can be movement forward. For instance, we’re looking at the living conditions of the workers in areas around mines so we could collaborate together with them to resolve some of those conditions.”
THE SOLUTIONS GOING FORWARD
(READ MORE: S.African union rejects gov't proposal to end platinum strike: newspaper)
He also indicated that government is looking at a number of solutions including rotating workers homewards to avoid splitting their incomes.
“We have been very slow, when you look at the mining industry, in doing things that they should have done over the past 20 years. The workers work under very difficult conditions historically speaking and that needs to be recognised,” said Ramatlhodi.
“One of the things that we are looking at is to rotate the workers homewards, on a regular basis. In other words, they should not establish secondary homes at the workplace because that tends to split their income into supporting the home they come from but also the home at their workplace.”
THE ROLE AND FUNCTION OF GOVERNMENT
While government has shown that it will intervene should it be necessary for them to, Ramatlhodi asserted that government’s function should not replace that of the institutions who are tasked with resolving disputes.
“Government is considering, at the conclusion of this exercise, to take the matter back to court so that we don’t substitute the official institutions that are created to resolve matters such as this, once there is an agreement,” he said.
AN INDUSTRY MAKEOVER
The minerals minister added that the ministry plans to relook at the industry in order to increase the pace of change with regards to ownership, management, acquisitions, operations and the industry as a whole.
“We have a big challenge as a country because in 20 years, while we have done a lot of good things, we have produced one of the most unequal societies in the world, and we left wealth to stay where it was. We must begin the process of transferring elements of that wealth to the majority,” Ramatlhodi stated.
“We haven’t democratised the economy and that’s the biggest challenge that faces the country going forward. In five years, we should have a representative mining industry in terms of ownership, in terms of management and in all other respects. That’s what I envisage for the future for my ministry.”