“Solving complex problems is never easy, but when all parties are committed to a better future for their stakeholders and pro-actively search for a solution together, the result can be awe-inspiring,” says Christine Breet, Aurecon Manager, Community and Stakeholder Engagement.
In 2017, Assmang (Pty) Ltd embarked on a process to update their housing policy in line with the South African Mining Charter. Not only did the policy need to comply with new legislation, but it also had to meet the needs of employees at three Assmang Northern Cape mines: Black Rock Mine Operations (BRMO), Khumani and Beeshoek. The company established the iKhaya Working Committee comprising the three trade unions, Assmang Senior Management and African Rainbow Minerals (ARM) HQ.
The Aurecon Planning team was invited to present a proposal and suggested process on how to update the housing policy to the iKhaya Working Committee. Pieter Scholtz, Aurecon Technical Director, Energy, Resources and Manufacturing immediately realised that a very complex stakeholder engagement process would have to be followed. He requested the Communication and Stakeholder Engagement team to design a process for researching the needs and wants of the employees that would inform the updated housing policy.
Aurecon started the process with a number of Design to Innovate workshops to ensure that the new housing policy was compiled through a co-design process, a first for Assmang mines.
The intricacies of living and working in remote areas of the sparsely populated Northern Cape Province required in-depth stakeholder engagement with the mine workers, to ensure that the policy was appropriate to their circumstances, while complying with the DMR Housing and Living Conditions Standard. This requires mining right holders to assist its employees to strive for home ownership. Aurecon’s team commenced with digital surveys, reaching 77% of all employees, to assess their current housing situation and their aspirations. The information that was gathered was then verified during focus groups with as many employees as possible.
The process was challenging, with unions at times trying to turn the focus of the project to wage negotiations. Each trade union had their own views on what the potential solution should be and this increased the complexity of finding the right housing options to satisfy all role players. When the research on employee preferences and aspirations was completed, Aurecon’s Planning team took over and with their deep knowledge of the legislative requirements, supported by the results of the surveys and focus groups, they commenced with updating the housing policy. The team narrowed down the housing options to six that would hopefully provide an acceptable choice for every single mine worker.
In terms of the new policy, all employees, irrespective of preference for homeownership, renting, or tribal residence, can now be accommodated. Unlike the old housing policy, subsidies or loans will be available to employees who prefer to reside in tribal areas, provided they have a Permission to Occupy from the tribal leader of the area. Unfortunately, some employees have through the years lost their credit rating through indiscriminate spending and consequently can still not qualify for a home loan. The mine has arranged debt counselling services to assist employees to get out of debt, after which they can also apply for one of the available housing options. Other significant changes in the policy are that employees may now choose to buy a house anywhere in the country and not only around the mine, and their spouses who work at the mine can also qualify for a housing benefit, enabling the couple to pay off their home much faster or buy a larger house.
“The co-design and engagement approach proposed by Aurecon was a fresh new way to bring opposing parties together. It enabled everyone to define the problem and work towards solutions. The playing field between management and organised labour was also equalised because everyone, irrespective of their role and level within the organisation, had an equal opportunity to provide input and to be heard,” says Leana du Toit, Executive HR Operations at African Rainbow Minerals. “The process quickly broke down barriers, not only between management and trade unions but also between the different trade unions. It led to the realisation that despite being on opposite sides of the fence, management and unions often share the same views and have the same vision for the organisation and its employees.”