A perfect storm: migrancy and mining in the North West province

A perfect storm: migrancy and mining in the North West province

The platinum industry was severely affected by prolonged strikes in 2012 and 2014 , which lasted for months. Near Marikana in the North West Province of South Africa on 16 August 2015, police fired on strikers, killing 34 miners in the worst massacre since the transition to democracy in 1994. In both strikes, the miners and their families endured real hardship as they went months without pay.

The strikes could not be attributed simply to unusually low wages by national standards, although South African miners earned far less than their equals in Australia, the US and other industrialised economies. Yet virtually no other industry saw workplace conflict of the bitterness experienced on the platinum mines. Moreover, the other major employers within mining, mostly in gold and coal, also did not experience similarly prolonged and rancorous strikes.

It follows that stresses other than pay alone must be explored to explain the intensity of workplace conflict on the platinum mines.

In engagements led by the Presidency in 2012 and 2014, both employer and union representatives used the concept of migrant labour to capture the interaction between living and working conditions that caused unusual stress for miners in South Africa .

  • they argued that circular migrant labour to the mines meant that:
  • the miners suffered from stressful living and community conditions
  • miners faced higher financial burdens because they provided for their families in labour - sending areas through remittances; and migrant labour was associated with a tradition of oppressive workplace relations and profound inequalities in returns from the mines, with an unusually large social and pay gap between workers and supervisors as well as a relatively low share of total value added going to labour

Recommendations: In this context, a first step would be to agree on what would constitute a decent workplace. Key elements include not only more equitable payscales, but also recognition for seniority and access to promotions, improved accountability from supervisors and management toward workers, greater equity and security for con tracted workers, and equal workplace facilities and social interaction between supervisors and workers. Such an agreement should make it easier to identify the practical interventions to transform the work organisation and supervision systems inherited fro m apartheid. Finally, the experience of the platinum belt underscore d the need for a better understanding of how the artificial geography of apartheid wa s being gradually transformed. Even with realistic interventions to improve production and employment, the former “homeland” regions could not conceivably support their 2015 populations. By extension, migration to economic centres was set to continue for the foreseeable future. In this context, it was important both to develop a more specific and realistic assessment of where economic opportunities could be created in historic labour - sending regions, and to analyse how the out - migration would affect human settlements and job needs in the rest of the country.



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