Union and Business Efforts to Increase Productivity in the Mining Sector: A Critical Reflection

The aim of this paper is to examine the practicality of how mineworkers, organised under a trade union, can participate in employers’ productivity-increasing initiatives in a mutually beneficial way in South Africa. A critical analysis of the concept of productivity and its practical application in the mining business environment, including the aspect of relationship dynamics between mineworkers and employers is done. It is highlighted that defining productivity in the sector is subjective and characterised by information asymmetry in favour of the employers. Moreover, low productivity has frequently been used as a reason against mineworkers’ quest for higher wages; as a result, the concept is viewed with suspicion by mineworkers. For a trade union to aggressively encourage its members to participate in productivity initiatives at the workplace, it needs to get some assurance that its members will benefit from the resultant increase in productivity. This will require that mineworkers and employers have a prior agreement on the definition of productivity, the parameters to measure it, and the extent to which a change in productivity will influence workers’ wages and benefits. Given the precedent of mineworkers’ exploitation and the existing trust deficit between parties in South Africa’s mining sector, the onus lies on the side of mining businesses to demonstrate and convince unions that the productivity initiatives are not just another tool to exploit workers.