Business Maverick

LABOUR RELATIONS

Harmony, unions strike gold with historic five-year wage pact

Harmony, unions strike gold with historic five-year wage pact
Peter Steenkamp, chief executive officer of Harmony Gold Mining Co., speaks on the opening day of the Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town, South Africa, on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. Mining executives, investors and government ministers are meeting in Cape Town for the African Mining Indaba, the continents biggest gathering of one of its most vital industries. Photographer: Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Harmony Gold signed a historic inflation-linked five-year wage agreement with five unions on Thursday, the day after the precious metal’s price hit a record high. The deal should maintain harmony in Harmony’s shafts and is a welcome development after a wave of wildcat, underground sit-ins late last year signalled rising labour tensions.

The deal is the first five-year wage agreement with all of its unions in Harmony’s 73-year history and was reached three months before the expiry of the current one – without a single tool being downed. 

The previous three-year deal was also clinched without a hint of strike action. 

This should maintain harmony in Harmony’s shafts, which have been rocked in the past by union unrest, and provides certainty on labour costs over the next five years as the company embarks on an expansion project at its Mponeng operation, the world’s deepest mine. 

For the members of the five unions involved – Solidarity, Uasa, NUM, Amcu and Numsa – the agreement provides for five years of annual pay increases linked to inflation or higher, providing them with a long-term sense of security regarding their incomes.  

CEO Peter Steenkamp said in a statement that the deal “… is testimony to the strength of our labour relations… It is fair and balanced, considering the impact that increases in the cost of living are likely to have on employees over the next five years.”

One thing that would not have been lost on unions was the price of gold, which raced to a new record high above $2,300 an ounce on Wednesday. 

Read more: Gold price rises above $2,300, shattering all-time high – MINING.COM

With that backdrop, Harmony’s employees – most of whom have several dependants – were hardly going to accept anything below inflation. 

Under the affable Steenkamp, Harmony does seem to have won the trust of labour, and the planned expansion of Mponeng will keep several thousand employees on the job for a good few years longer. With looming lay-offs in the platinum sector in the face of depressed prices, that can score you some points. 

The agreement also shows that the labour tensions that were thrown into sharp relief by a spate of wildcat, underground sit-ins late last year are not brewing in all of the shafts.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Implats wildcat underground strike ends in time for payday — issues unresolved

During the incidents at the Gold One mine last year, the NUM accused Amcu of hostage-taking and coercing its members to stay underground. The fact that the two unions, whose lethal rivalry triggered a decade of labour flare-ups, have again united in wage talks in an amicable manner is a sign that those tensions have cooled. 

One of the first times they buried the hatchet was when they came together in the negotiations that sealed the current three-year wage agreement with Harmony that expires this winter. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Harmony Gold inks historic wage deal with five unions

Harmony does seem to be doing something right on the labour front, and it can afford to be generous with the gold price at its current nose-bleed levels. 

Meanwhile, the world’s deepest mine is set to go even further below the surface, and it looks like that will proceed without any sit-ins 4 kilometres underground. DM

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