Q&A: What doesn’t keep NUM’s Baleni awake at night
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is fighting for survival in the platinum-producing belt of the North West province, having lost its recognition rights at Impala Platinum and finding it overtaken by its rival, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats).
Andre Janse van Vuuren caught up with NUM’s general secretary, Frans Baleni, at the annual Mining Indaba in Cape Town to talk about the union’s loss of membership and how it plans to deal with the situation.
What is your main objective for attending the Mining Indaba?
We’re consulting with other stakeholders, especially CEOs and chairpersons, on how we see the future in terms of political policies, stability, inflation and collective bargaining. There is a very high demand from investors that want to interact with us on what they should expect of the future.
It seems as if you have no control over the decline in membership numbers. Does it keep you awake at night?
We have been prepared for it. Since this violence started we knew we would take a knock. We know it is a short-term thing. We already have people that are coming back. Last week we had a mass meeting that was well attended.
You previously said you’re unable to speak to your members in Rustenburg because of violence and intimidation. Does the fact that you were able to stage a meeting mean that the situation is normalising?
Look, it has not normalised fully. The meeting we held wasn’t at the ground we usually hold our mass meetings. We told our shop stewards to be careful of attacks and they chose different venues where they thought security would be better.
What makes you so confident that this loss of membership will be short-term?
The people who recruited these individuals did so on false promises, high levels of coercion and intimidation. Once people discover that they have been misled, they’ll come back. We’ve seen it before. We lost people to Mouthpiece in the 1990’s and it took 18 months to get that membership back. People are already saying that their new union are causing them problems because of the retrenchments.
Speaking of retrenchments, is there any way one can stem the job casualties at Amplats? Speaking simplistically, those shafts could be profitable if somebody else takes ownership of it. Look at what De Beers did with Finsch mine. It sold it to Petra and it is highly profitable again. Platinum mineworkers are being retrenched at the moment. The industry still has to create a structure for centralised bargaining while the existing wage agreement comes to an end in June.
Will the combination of these factors not create more tensions and instability?
Our biggest concern is that these developments and unfinished work will complicate our bargaining work, especially in the platinum sector. The new player chose to walk away from the establishment of a centralised bargaining structure. We think they are avoiding it because they don’t want to operate in a structured environment; they prefer to pursue guerrilla warfare. The problem is that, by the time we eventually manage to submit our demands as a union, the deadline will be too close (for meaningful negotiations).