South Africa

NUM & AMCU resist Amplats dismissals

By Greg Nicolson 1 October 2013

After causing outrage over its restructuring plan, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) looks set to go through with the idea that could save the company’s profitability. Amplats has significantly decreased the number of workers to be retrenched. First, however, it must get past the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). By GREG NICOLSON.

AMCU was locked in negotiations on Monday night with Amplats management. Both failed to provide an update of whether there were any agreements reached. AMCU wants a further reduction in the number of those who will be dismissed and for Amplats to retain permanent workers while letting go of contract workers. A compromise is what they are calling for.

But Amplats already has made a compromise. In January, the company announced a plan to mothball some of its mines, leading to a large drop in output and the cutting of 14,000 jobs. “We must evolve to align the business with our expectations of the platinum market’s long-term dynamics and address the structural changes that have eroded profitability over time,” said Amplats CEO Chris Griffith. Unions, the ANC and government were outraged.

Consultations with the Department of Mineral Resources and unions helped cut the number of planned retrenchments to 3,300. Around 6,000 jobs would still need to go, said Amplats in August, but 1,600 workers could be redeployed, 1,500 accepted voluntary severance packages, and another 500 opportunities were available.

“We have previously stated that the Company is under tremendous economic pressure. Strikes and work stoppages will result in further losses that will hamper plans for future sustainability and further threaten the future of our 45,000 employees. We will continue to engage with AMCU through the established channels to try and return the business to normality,” said Griffith on Friday.

AMCU members have been on a legal strike since Friday, protesting against the retrenchments, due to begin when the one-month notice is up at the start of October. Amplats is the world’s leading platinum producer, accounting for around 40% of production. AMCU represents around 40% of the company’s main operations in Rustenburg. Around 1,000 workers gathered outside Thembelani mine on Monday, but dispersed when the union went into discussions with mine management.

Ayanda Shezi, spokesperson for the Department of Mineral Resources, said she couldn’t comment on the issue. “It would be improper for the department to comment at this stage, as the matter is currently before the courts,” she told Daily Maverick.

Not to be outdone by Amcu, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is taking Amplats to the Labour Court today. This weekend the NUM national executive committee said it “condemned Anglo Platinum’s insincerity in its application of the Section 189 process and for reneging on agreed terms”. The NUM has “urged the union’s lawyers to leave no stone unturned. The legal case on retrenchments will be heard on Tuesday 1 October at the Labour Court in Johannesburg.” As the Section 189 process involved government and a number of unions, the case is sure to be interesting.

The Section 189 process stipulates that an employer must enter a joint consensus-seeking process and take appropriate measures to avoid and minimise the dismissals and mitigate the effects of the dismissals. Given the lengthy engagement process, the delay of the implementation of the restructuring plan, and to the largely reduced number of planned dismissals, it looks hard to imagine the court ruling in favour of the union. The NUM wants an urgent interdict against the dismissals.

While Amplats faces further resistance to its restructuring plan, the mining industry found some relief on Monday as a two-year wage agreement was reached in the coal industry. The wage increases vary across the coal producers and categories of worker, but for 2013 they hover around 8% moving to a CPI +1% increase in 2014 (with different minimums according to different mining houses).

Motsamai Motlhamme, chief negotiator for the Chamber of Mines, said, “There has been constructive and courteous engagement by all parties throughout this period, a sense of trust and mutual benefit had underpinned these negotiations and we hope this ethos will prevail as we work at getting South African mining back to optimal production levels.”

Anglo American Platinum still has a lot of convincing to do to get the unions to agree to its restructuring plan, but the weight is on its side. Extending the consultation process and reducing the number of dismissals looks good in the courts. And a tight industry, with workers still feeling the effects from a protracted, unpaid strike in 2012, will dampen any attempt to force the company to change its mind through industrial action.

Amplats closed slightly down on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange on Monday, in line with the drop across mining companies. Today it faces another challenge, from the streets to the courts. DM

Photo: Miners gather near the Anglo American Platinum’s Thembelani mine near the mining town of Rustenburg, northwest of Johannesburg September 30, 2013. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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