The overtime scam in gold mining
Amandla! correspondent | Amandla! Magazine Issue No.41 | SEPTEMBER 2015
Every week, workers in gold mines work 10 hours and more in overtime. Twenty hours overtime per week is not unusual. The gold mining industry has been granted an exemption to increase overtime above the normal legal limit. The exemption allows the companies to increase the number of hours overtime from five hours to 10 hours per week. The employers take the 10 hours or more, but they only pay for three. This has become a key issue in the wage negotiations for the industry. Dick Forslund explains.
Hours of work are governed by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. Under normal circumstances, workers can work a maximum of 45 hours plus 10 hours overtime per week. Some companies (such as mining companies) average normal working hours over a period. So, in a two week period, for example, a worker may work 42 hours in the first week and 48 hours in the second week. The average over the two weeks is 45. But if they do average the normal working hours, the workers are restricted to an average of five hours overtime per week.
In September 2013, the Chamber of Mines asked the Minister of Labour to give an exemption to the gold mining industry. Their motivation was ‘the time taken to transport employees from the surface to their place of work and back, which stretches the working day beyond what would apply to easily accessible work places.’ They said specifically that ‘Travelling time … is paid time’ and that it ‘can be up to an hour a day or more.’ The minister granted their request for two years.
It takes a long time for a gold mine worker to get to the work site
The Chamber of Mines was truthful about some of what it said about the overtime. It does take a very long time for mineworkers in the gold mines to reach their work site (the stope). If anything, the employers underestimated it. For example, at Anglo Gold Ashanti’s Mponeng mine, the first shift clocks in at 4.10 a.m. After travelling in cages, waiting at new stations and walking in tunnels, the workers reach the stope somewhere around 7 in the morning.
These circumstances lead to very long working days. At Sibanye’s Beatrix mine, for example, work starts at 4.30 am. Those same workers clock out around 4.45pm – 12 hours and 15 minutes later. It is not uncommon that they clock out after eight in the evening. They are ordered not to come up before there can be a blast.
At Harmony’s Kusalethu Mine, about 3,900 underground workers clock in at 4.15 am. Waiting at stations and walking in narrow stopes and in tunnels, some of them 3 to 4km long, takes time. ‘To work in a mine is to walk in queues and to stand in queues’. The cages (lifts) take 45 workers a time.
Mineworkers have been doing overtime for nothing
Unfortunately, the Chamber of Mines was not truthful about other parts of what it said about overtime. The gold mining employers have not been paying for it. According to their own figures, tabled at the current wage negotiations, they have been paying for an average of just over three hours per week. In addition, there is a bonus system for reaching targets. The workers work long hours of overtime in order to reach their targets. The employers try to suggest that this bonus is pay for the overtime. But the law is clear – if you work overtime, you must be paid for overtime. Whatever you receive in bonus is separate.
So how much do the employers owe the workers?
They worked at least ten hours overtime. They were paid for three. Seven hours unpaid overtime a week means that every underground mineworker in the lowest paygrade ‘Category 4’ is owed roughly R1,300 per month. The law limits claims to three years. So for three years they are owed about R48,000. Workers in higher pay grades are owed more. AMCU is rocking the employers at the negotiation table.