Getting unions on mining company boards is the best way to revive SA economy

AT last year’s Mining Charter III negotiations, trade unions campaigned for employee representation on company boards. A clause making provision for such representation was consequently included in the draft charter.

This clause was scrapped at the eleventh hour at the insistence of the Minerals Council South Africa, most likely owing to the robust nature of labour relations at the time. The Department of Mineral Resources (now DMR & Energy) was also uncomfortable with the clause given the fiduciary obligation it would place on employee representatives. But in the end, pulling the clause was indicative of poor cooperation and trust between role players.

Earlier this year, at the annual Africa Mining Indaba, South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, challenged mining companies to have the courage of their convictions by giving employees representation on their boards. In response, Minerals Council president, Mxolisi Mgojo, said in May that a mature relationship between employers and trade unions had first be established before employee representation could be considered.

Germany is the world leader when it comes to employee representation on boards. The German embassy in South Africa, in collaboration with the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), last month invited Reiner Hoffmann, chairperson of the German Trade Union Confederation, and Peter Clever, board member of the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations, to address South African trade union and business leaders on the German system of co-determination.

Hoffman pointed out that after World War II, Germans realised that it was division in the ranks of trade unions and employers, and between trade unions and employers, that allowed the Nazi regime to develop. And it was division that prevented employers and employees offering a collective resistance. After the war, trade unions were therefore united in one trade union confederation and employers in one employer organisation.

According to Clever, German employers and trade unions also realised at the time that labour peace and increased productivity were essential elements for economic growth.

In practice, this means that agreements between employers and trade unions must take into account the interests of employers and employees alike. A ‘win-win’ agreement that is constructed it such a way results in labour peace.

This employer/employee maturity paved the way for the democratisation of the workplace and supervisory boards with equal representation between employees and shareholders were established in workplaces, while employees were given a further say in works councils. A key element of this system is that there is less interference […]

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