labour unrest

March 2011

A three-week teachers’ strike in Oman suggests that the genie of unrest is out of the bottle in this unassuming corner of the oil-rich Gulf.

The strike has affected up to three quarters of Oman’s roughly 1,000 schools, where open dissent is becoming a regular occurrence since the strategic sultanate had its own outburst of Arab spring-inspired unrest in March 2011. Read more

When Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president, got up to address parliament on Wednesday he did his bit to boost the spirits of a sombre nation, even if it was momentary uplift. He began by saying that Nelson Mandela was “responding better to treatment this morning” as the iconic former president spent his fifth day in hospital being treated for a recurring lung infection.

But then Zuma had to tackle other pressing problems facing Africa’s largest economy – the dire performance of its economy and the volatile nature of labour relations in the mining industry as companies prepare for crucial wage negotiations in coming weeks. Read more

The latest bout of trouble in South Africa’s mining industry entered its second week on Monday with the country’s gold stocks index hitting an almost 12-year low and the rand down at levels last seen four years ago. Read more

South African mining firms are in a delicate position. Squeezed by falling commodity prices, production problems and labour unrest, they are trying to push on with plans to cut costs while treading carefully to keep workers onside.

On Friday, top global platinum producer Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) announced its decision to slash 6,000 jobs, a far cry from the 14,000 originally planned – but the main union AMCU rejected the announcement, and Amplats may find itself dragged back to the drawing board. Read more

Colombia’s coffee tastes sweeter, once again.

On Friday, the country’s cafeteros – or coffee growers- and the government finally came to an agreement that puts an end to a strike that has left several people wounded. Read more

Huawei, the Chinese telecoms group, is the latest international investor to feel the brunt of Indonesia’s increasingly vocal trade union movement.

Union activists and current and former employees have launched a campaign against what they say is Huawei’s use of illegal foreign workers, its union busting practices and other alleged violations of Indonesia’s tough labour laws. Read more

Five workers were reported to have been shot by security guards on Monday at an Anglo American Platinum mine in South Africa. With relations between the world’s largest platinum miner, its workforce and the South African government already strained, the incident will have significant repercussions. Read more

The global mining industry could hardly be accused of being introspective. It’s a tough business, all about grade, costs and prices. Everything else is secondary. Nowhere has this attitude been more apparent in the past than at the annual Africa Mining Indaba in Cape Town.

This year, the obligations of the industry as a development partner were front and centre in the main auditorium; the debate was as much about people and politics as it was about mining. The agenda has clearly changed. Read more

Saudi Basic Industries Corp, Saudi Arabia’s biggest publicly-traded company, has a very non-Saudi problem: striking workers.

The Riyadh-based petrochemicals behemoth is facing the wrath of the labour unions – not at home in the kingdom where such groups are banned but at its Chemicals Geleen plant in the Netherlands. Read more

It’s been a tricky few days for South Africa’s electricity public utility Eskom. Strikes, controversy over political breakfasts, allegations of spying on unions and others, anger over price hikes: it’s a lot to contend with.

At Eskom’s Medupi site in Limpopo, strike action has halted construction of the R91bn ($10bn) coal-fired power plant. It was hoped work could resume on Thursday (Jan 24), but talks have yet to produce an agreement. Read more

The effect of South Africa’s (mainly) mining strikes is being felt in company results and official data, one by one. On Tuesday it’s the big one – GDP – but on Monday it was the turn of miner Gold Fields, which reported a shrink in output and profits for the quarter.

The tone is set in the statement by chief executive Nick Holland: “The September quarter of 2012 will be remembered as one of the most challenging from an operational perspective…”, and continues in that vein for another 1,000 words. Read more

Labour unions at GM’s Korean subsidiary are up in arms over the company’s plans to shed jobs and to move some production out of the country, as the carmaker launches a new early retirement programme for office workers.

It is GM’s second attempt so far this year to reduce its headcount as it tries to cut costs with European losses weighing on profits. Read more

Leaders of South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on Monday pledged to try to stabilise labour relations in the troubled industry.

But Frans Baleni, general secretary, and Senzeni Zokwana, president, told beyondbrics they could not give investors “guarantees” that there would be no resurgence of the strikes that caused so much disruption this year. Read more

Escalating disputes between labour unions and employers in north Africa are threatening to derail economic recovery after the uprisings that ousted long-ruling dictators in the region, writes Farah Halime.

Emboldened by the spirit of political change, thousands of workers in Egypt and Tunisia have staged a series of protests and are now in deadlocked talks with companies over demands for a minimum wage. Read more

It’s been a tough old week for the South African rand. On Monday (October 8) it broke the 8.9 rand to the dollar barrier, weakening to levels not seen since the depths of the financial crisis in 2009.

But the pressure was somewhat relieved on Friday, with a little good news. The two-week truck drivers strike came to an end with a sizeable wage agreement. It helped nudge the rand back down to around 8.6 to the dollar. Read more

Another twist in the South African labour relations on Friday: Anglo American Platinum has fired 12,000 workers taking part in a three-week illegal strike.

That’s around a fifth of the company’s workforce. While there are precedents for big dismissals like this, the move comes at an extremely volatile moment – on Friday another striking miner was reportedly killed by a police rubber bullet during protests at Amplats Rustenburg mine. Read more

Alec Russell, news editor, talks to Helen Zille, leader of South African opposition Democratic Alliance, about the recent social unrest connected with the mining industry and the outlook for the economy as a whole.

Platinum, then gold, then transport, now iron ore. Strikes in South Africa just keep on spreading.

The latest miner to be affected is Kumba Iron Ore, which is majority owned by Anglo American. On Wednesday 300 miners started a wildcat strike at the company’s Sishen mine in the Northern Cape. While it’s a small proportion of the total workforce, it’s a worry, and the share price shows it. Read more

The Marikana miners may have agreed a settlement with Lonmin, but South African mining strikes are far from over. AngloGold Ashanti is now in the eye of the storm.

After closing its Kopanang mine after a strike that began last week with 5,000 workers, the company has now halted all South African operations as most of its 35,000 employees have joined the industrial action. Shares are down 3 per cent in Johannesburg on Wednesday. Read more

By Thero Setiloane of Business Leadership South Africa

It is probably too soon to say whether the very fabric of our labour relations framework is being torn apart in South Africa. I don’t think it’s too soon to say that it is being challenged in a deep and fundamental way. All mining companies will be affected by this and will need to approach this change in an open and constructive way.

One of the biggest challenges to that framework has been the initial R12,500 basic monthly wage demand made by the Lonmin workers. That demand was until recently one of the enduring features of the current unrest but its potential impact on the mining industry and what it tells us about labour relations in South Africa hasn’t really been understood. Read more