Are miners rewarded for their high risk jobs?

Are miners rewarded for their high risk jobs?

This is a pertinent question in South Africa, especially after the Lonmin Mine’s Marikana massacre in August 2012, which was the tipping point for wage disputes, miner unrest, and mineworker unions’ troubles. It’s not the first time that mineworkers in South Africa have had to resort to mass action to get their voices heard; to put forward their plea for higher wages, but unfortunately it’s also the symptom of a set of much bigger issues that needs to be addressed before the real question of whether mineworkers are aptly rewarded for their high risk jobs, can be answered.

Mining in Australia

One of the countries in the world where mineworkers are compensated the highest is in Australia. Consider this: in South Africa, mineworkers operating rock drills in the mines earn in the region of R5 000 to R6 000 per month. Rock drillers in Australia, on the other hand, are earning as much as ten times that amount, and while the mining situation in Australia is very different to that in South Africa, they have a different set of problems altogether.

In an article last year, it was reported that mineworkers’ lives are being placed at greater risk than to be expected in the mines. Yes, mining is a dangerous job and the miners receive “danger pay” (hence the high salaries), but Australian site inspectors at mines reveal that miners are at additional risk because of inexperienced supervisors, and mine bosses not properly managing or scrutinising operations. A safety report released for the period of August 2011 to January 2012 revealed the number of avoidable incidents and accidents happening on the mines, which could easily have been prevented if the supervisors were competent and present.

Mining in South Africa

One of the major differences between mining in South Africa and mining in Australia, which may also account for the pay discrepancy, is the number of workers and the ratio of productivity. In Australia, there are fewer mine workers (who accept more of the risk), but a very high rate of productivity. In South African mines, there are far more mine workers, and some mining managers have reported a much slower rate of productivity. Australia’s higher cost of living is also taken into account when looking at the discrepancy.

Mining work is dangerous and there is a wide range of risks that could befall mineworkers at any time on any given day, in spite of occupational health and safety policies and practices that have been put in place. The mining industry doesn’t need another incident like that of Marikana, even though it forced the mining company’s hand to increase miners’ pay. All mining industry stakeholders need to have a look at the situation and perhaps an assessment of risk versus pay, versus adequate management practices, versus adequate housing conditions and mine management, needs to be on the cards.