24 January 2013

South Africa: Miners' Wage Demand Unrealistic - Inquiry Told

Photo: Werner Beukes/SAPA
Police on standby if violence erupts at Lonmin's troubled Marikana mine in the North West, Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Rustenburg — The wage demand of R12,500 by striking Marikana miners was too high, a Lonmin lawyer argued before the Farlam commission of inquiry on Thursday.

"The demanded rate was an unrealistic demand," Schalk Burger told National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) health and safety national secretary Erick Gcilitshana, who is also a Lonmin employee.

Burger said most South Africans generally earned less than this.

Gcilitshana said it would be difficult to say as he did not know how much money the company had available.

Burger told him to take off his union hat, to answer the question like a witness, and admit the demand was too high.

Gcilitshana stood by his answer.

They did, however, agree that the strike was in contempt of a Labour Court order, that violence erupted, and that strikers were armed.

Burger said Lonmin and NUM had agreed they would not negotiate with workers under those circumstances.

"That's correct," Gcilitshana answered.

Earlier, he testified that lives might have been saved if the wage dispute at Lonmin's Marikana mine had been settled outside a national bargaining process.

Evidence leader Geoff Budlender asked him if it was true that lives could have been saved by a settlement.

"I think so. I can't be confident in saying that."

He recalled his shock on hearing that a police shooting had left 34 workers dead.

"I got [the news of the shooting] from the radio. To me it was a shock and surprise," Gcilitshana said. He was the chief negotiator during the Lonmin strike in August.

Budlender asked him what his response was on hearing the news.

"I don't recall very clearly. As I remember, we did phone the company to verify."

The commission is probing the deaths of 44 people during an unprotected strike at the mine last year.

Thirty-four striking mineworkers were shot dead and 78 were wounded when police opened fire while trying to disperse a group gathered on a hill near the mine on August 16.

In the preceding week, 10 people, including two police officers and two security guards, were hacked to death.

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Police on standby if violence erupts at Lonmin's troubled Marikana mine in the North West, Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the deaths of 34 miners at Marikana in August last year has heard from a union member, who is being questioned on his knowledge of muti ... Read more »