'They are not trapped ... but are staging a sit-in'
NUM Strikers. Picture: Danie van der Lith
More miners have joined the 150 miners already on strike as a result of labour disputes with Petra Diamonds.
The company confirmed this morning that employees at Finsch Mine had joined their colleagues from the Kimberley Ekapa Mining Joint-Venture (KEM-JV) in protest, on Monday evening, due to unhappiness about bonuses and wages.
While the company expected that the completion of a new wage agreement for operations in South Africa would trigger labour relations volatility, discussions between Petra and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) continue in an effort to resolve the matter..
It is believed that operations at the Cullinan and Koffiefontein Mines remain unaffected.
Miners spent the weekend underground in Kimberley in protest after apparently being informed on Friday that performance bonuses would be withheld should they not accept management’s offer following annual wage negotiations with Petra Diamonds.
Amidst claims that the miners were being deprived of food, in an effort to force them to return to the surface, Petra management emphasised yesterday that the sit-in was illegal and constituted an unprotected strike.
However, a sanctioned protest regarding the wage dispute commenced yesterday morning.
The regional spokesperson for the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Orapeleng Moraladi, said that the union had approached the provincial Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) to intervene, only to be told that the relevant person to speak to was not available.
“We went to the DMR’s offices and were told that the person to speak to was in Danielskuil,” Moraladi said late yesterday afternoon. “It was agreed that he would drive back to Kimberley to help resolve the matter, but we are still waiting.
“We can confirm that 158 miners have been underground since Friday after they were told by mine management that, should they strike if wage negotiations do not go their way, they will lose their production bonuses, which are due to be paid this month,” Moraladi said.
“We have asked to be allowed to take food to the miners, but management has refused to grant us access to them,” he claimed.
The wife of one of the miners who is currently underground, said that her husband left to start his regular shift at the Wesselton Mine early on Friday morning, giving no indication that there might be a situation at the mine.
“As per usual, my husband’s shift started at 6am on Friday so he left for work early in the morning,” she said yesterday.
“At around 3pm that afternoon, when he was due to come off work and head home, he called me and said that he can’t go anywhere because there was a protest and they were unable to leave.”
After her husband did not return home for the evening, she went to the mine to fetch his vehicle.
“My husband works at the Wesselton Mine so I went to the joint shaft. His car had been parked there overnight and I needed to retrieve a set of house keys from the vehicle.
“However, security would not allow me onto the premises to fetch these keys, saying that there was a situation and nobody was allowed onto the property.
“Other family members were also at the mine. They wanted to take food to their loved ones, but were unable to do so.
“Apparently, they (the miners) eventually received food late on Sunday evening, but I am still very worried. We have received very little information and do not know what is going on. I was there at about 3pm (on Monday) and there was still no news,” she said.
“There are a lot of people down there and, while making sure they get food is one concern, there are also some of them who require medication, which they are not getting while they are stuck underground.”
According to Petra spokesperson, Gert Klopper, there are currently two separate mass actions under way. He pointed out that the underground sit-in, which started on Friday morning, was unprotected and illegal.
“We need to distinguish between the legal, protected strike action of which the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) notified the company, and which started at 6am on Monday, and the illegal, unprotected strike that took the form of a sit-in by a number of employees on Friday morning,” Klopper said.
“The protected strike follows non-acceptance of Petra’s substantive offer during wage negotiations by two of the company’s operations.
“The employees who are currently underground, are not trapped but are staging a sit-in. We have been in contact with them and the NUM branch leadership throughout, with the intent to encourage them to terminate the sit-in and come to the surface.”
Klopper added that some staff members, who had been involved in the sit-in, had already returned to the surface while those who remained were free to follow suit at their own discretion.
“The cage is available for them to come to the surface at any time,” he said. “A number of employees, including several women, who wanted to come up for medical and other reasons have already been evacuated. We have also started making contact with their families to update them on the situation.”
He said that discussions between NUM and the employer to convince union members to terminate their illegal mass action had proven futile.
While negotiations to end the dispute were still under way, he said that the company had already been granted an interdict to have these individuals removed from the premises.
“Discussions with NUM leadership to convince these workers to come to the surface are continuing in an effort to terminate this illegal action in a peaceful manner.
“No clear demands, apart from those covered by the legal strike, have been submitted for consideration.”