Johannesburg – On Friday a Codesa for the country’s 52 platinum mines started with negotiations for the creation of central bargaining in this strategic sector of the economy.

The significant platinum companies, the ordinary mine unions and even controversial union newcomer, the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu), were all part of the process.

Observers at Friday’s inaugural meeting in the office of the Chamber of Mines agreed that the success of the negotiations would depend on whether the National Union of Mineworkers (Num) and Amcu could abandon their bitter struggle for members and subordinate their interests to the future of the platinum industry with its around 184 000 workers.

Three experienced conflict resolvers – Charles Nupen, a former representative for South Africa at the International Labour Organisation, Meshack Ravuku, a senior commissioner of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and Peter Harris, an internationally renowned conflict resolver, did the preparations for the negotiations.

Over the past month they conducted various discussions with all the mining companies and unions.

At the opening on Friday Nupen said there was virtually 100% consensus that a central negotiating forum should be created – a step that had for years been opposed by mining companies.

According to Nupen there is still considerable debate about the question of whether there should be a formal, statutory bargaining council or whether a less formal structure should be created.

A statutory bargaining council would be able to expand its wage and other agreements to non-members.

The bilateral discussions also indicated that wages remained a decisive issue.

“There are still many thousands of workers on strike and wages will have to be on the table – this is of crucial interest,” said Nupen.

The instability in the industry will also need to be discussed.

“Violence, deaths and lootings are widespread. We will have to reach agreements on ways to bring stability to the industry,” he said.

On Friday it was also clear that the industry would for years continue to struggle with the so-called “socio-economic deficit” – social issues such as housing and education that would probably require investment worth billions and which should also be negotiated.

Labour Minister Nelisiwe Mildred Oliphant, who delivered an inaugural address, urged the parties to bring about negotiating structures involving more than wages and service conditions.

“The negotiating structures will be particularly important for the platinum sector, given the many socio-economic factors that contributed to the events at Marikana,” said Oliphant.

But Nupen pointed out that the mining industry could not tackle these issues alone.

“Serious involvement by line-function ministries and their departments is required,” he said.

According to Oliphant the recent events at the platinum mines showed that new bargaining arrangements should also provide for workers who are not union members.

“They comprise a significant number at platinum mines,” she said. There are about 122 000 permanent employees at platinum mines, but another 82 000 work for contractors and are generally not union members.

During the bloody Marikana strike at Lonmin it became apparent that they had played a big part in the strike.

On Friday Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the country’s biggest platinum producer, fired 12 000 workers at the group’s Rustenburg division because they had been on an unprotected strike for three weeks and strikes at its mines were spreading.

Another 9 000 workers – all part of a group of 21 000 that began to strike three weeks ago after a wage agreement was concluded at Lonmin – will probably be fired this week.

The Lonmin agreement hiked this group’s wages by 22% and provoked unprotected strikes by more than 80 000 workers – also at gold mines and even at Kumba’s rich Sishen Mine.

Amplats’ loss of production now amounts to 39 000 fine ounces of platinum worth some R700m.

The group’s profitable Amandelbult and Union division is also at a standstill now after strikes began there as well on Thursday and Friday.

Amplats chief executive Chris Griffith previously admitted that the fired workers would probably have to be reappointed.

Not everyone will get their jobs back because labour cuts were on the cards even before the strikes and these will probably have to be taken into account in the reappointments.