The use of mining contractors is a common approach in the local quarrying sector and the surface mining industry at large. Given that the functions they undertake happen in a mining environment, there is a general industry perception that all the activities are therefore classified as mining. According to Fourie, that is not always the case, as some of the activities are actually civil engineering functions.
Perhaps the most important of these are loading, hauling and dumping of mineralised material or waste material, as well as any excavations and bulk earthworks, which all fall under the BCCEI’s scope of application. The range of these activities is determined by the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) and was accepted by the Department of Employment and Labour. Therefore, any company performing these activities is required by law to register as a member of the BCCEI.
The BCCEI is a statutory body created under the Labour Relations Act (LRA) 66 of 1995 to provide for the co-regulation of stable and productive employment relations in the civil engineering industry. The council is an industry-based forum of organised business and labour that regulates employment conditions and labour relations in the civil engineering industry. It furnishes the necessary administrative infrastructure and technical expertise to ensure effective collective bargaining, industry compliance, dispute resolution and social protection services.
“This is where conditions of employment are negotiated for employees operating in the civil engineering sector,” Fourie says. “Our registered scope entails those operating in the civil engineering sector, listing common activities such as construction of roads and bridges, among others. However, our scope is wider than that – it also deals with a specific portion of civil engineering activities that are found on a mine or quarry.”
Fourie explains that the Labour Relations Act gives certain powers to the BCCEI to ensure that it executes on its mandate, which is to ensure that every company within its scope complies with the various collective agreements. These agreements were entered into by and between the members of the employer organisations and the members of the trade unions after industry national wage negotiations undertaken under the auspices of the BCCEI were concluded.
According to Fourie, a major reason for non-compliance by many mining contractors is that the most of these companies are not actually aware of the need to comply with the BCCEI. She believes there is still a need for educational awareness, especially on mines and quarries.
“What we have found is that many of the companies operating on mines and quarries are not necessarily aware that some of their activities fall under the civil engineering jurisdiction. Part of our focus this year is to reach out to them and make them aware of this requirement. The approach is not to punish organisations, but to work closely with them to ensure that they become complaint. The risks of non-compliance can be damaging to businesses,” says Fourie.
She urges concerned parties to approach any of the Bargaining Council’s offices in Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, East London or Bloemfontein. In addition, the council has several agents operating across the country.
There are considerable benefits of being a member of the BCCEI – both to the company itself and to the industry at large. Fourie draws attention to the philosophy behind the establishment of bargaining councils, which is to ensure a stable, fair and sustainable working environment – a good outcome for all stakeholders. The key function of the BCCEI is the facilitation of industry-wide wage negotiations between the main players – employers and trade unions.
“This is all about creating our own destiny as an industry, together through collaboration,” says Fourie. “While many companies in the sector do not have the time and resources to conduct satisfactory negotiations on wages and benefits with their own employees, the skilled and experienced representatives of the parties to the BCCEI have been doing this for years on behalf of the whole sector.”
In addition to the multi-year wage negotiations, the BCCEI regularly brings together the parties to the Council, to discuss issues affecting the civil engineering sector. “The parties’ professional and dedicated negotiation expertise ensures that working operations for all members can continue smoothly based on the security of having a multi-year wage agreement from the parties,” she says.
“This creates the right environment for companies to plan their costs and prices, and to focus on their operations instead of negotiating every year or sometimes more often. With negotiations being taken care of by skilled negotiators and facilitators, the industry can rest assured that there will not be emotional compromises made to the detriment of a fragile industry and economy.”
She also notes that the BCCEI offers other services such as high-quality dispute resolution. Through its Dispute Resolution Centre (DRC), dispute referrals are resolved as quickly as possible to meet the accreditation standards of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).
For the client, it gives them a sense of security that they are dealing with a reputable contractor. This reduces the risk of disruption on site through industrial action. Using a non-compliant organisation with questionable ethics also reflects badly on the client itself.
Non-compliance, says Fourie, can result in severe consequences for companies, such as fines and damage to their reputation. If, for example, a company has been non-compliant for a number of years – which might be true for most of the cases – or an employee approaches the Bargaining Council, a BCCEI agent may conduct an assessment and issue a compliance order which can be backdated for a number of years. The financial risk, through interests on outstanding amounts and fines that could be levied against a company, could be damaging.
“If an agent gives a compliance order and determines outstanding amounts owed to the Council or employees, the company has 14 days to pay. Failure to comply with the order results in the agent taking the matter to arbitration where the company will be required to appear before a commissioner. If the commissioner finds against the company, he can also levy fines on top of the interest payable, which might leave a company in a precarious financial position,” says Fourie.
Apart from the financial risks, being non-compliant comes with a reputational risk because a company will be non-competitive.
In conclusion, Fourie says that, since inception, the Council has never had a ‘stick’ approach to compliance. However, there have been many instances where companies are aware of the Bargaining Council but choose to dodge complying, which of course is unfair competition to those who are compliant.
“We urge companies to get in touch with us or one of our agents to come and verify if there is need to comply, especially in instances where companies are not sure whether what they are doing falls within the civil engineering scope,” concludes Fourie.