South Africa

AMCU holds firm on platinum strike

By T Lekgowa & G Nicolson 30 January 2014

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) strike on the platinum belt is in its second week. Negotiations are yet to make headway and with another union joining the fight, platinum producers are in for a long ride. By THAPELO LEKGOWA & GREG NICOLSON.

A week after AMCU’s 80,000 members in the platinum industry went on strike, workers gathered on Thursday to discuss the latest offer from employers. The three platinum producers, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Impala Platinum (Implats) and Lonmin have offered increases and spelt out how workers can reach their “living wage” demand of a monthly R12,500 in the years to come. They’re offering a three-year agreement with increases of between 7% and 9%.

At a meeting of AMCU members in Marikana, the scene of the 2012 massacre, workers said they would remain resolute. “We as AMCU do not negotiate in percentages; we negotiate in Rand. The employer has made an offer but it will be great for us to go through it and understand what they mean. They say they will be able to achieve the R12,500 in three stages over a period of three years giving various categories different percentages,” said Happy Leselejane, AMCU secretary at Lonmin’s Eastern Platinum.

The workers rejected the offer and talks will resume at the Commission for Conciliation, Arbitration and Mediation today. Leselejane added, “It will take rock drill operators eight years to reach the R12,500 as a minimum wage. It will take other categories between nine and 11 years to see the R12,500 in real life,” he added. “If AMCU achieves this demand they will be only relevant union in the next coming years, meaning everyone will have to belong to AMCU as it addresses the mandate of the worker and not the leadership and the bosses like the union we used to belong to [NUM].”

Leselejane continued: “This will not be an easy road we are travelling. We are going to face many challenges on the way but we implore you to be as disciplined as you have been in the past few days. As you have seen other comrades in other shafts have been engaging in acts that put our union to shame. Those acts were expected from us but we let them down and we should keep it up. You must never be divided by issues of hunger and have some people getting impatient and wanting to go back to work. As the struggle intensifies it can only be sustained by you comrades and at no point will we turn against each other.”

AMCU Treasurer, Jimmy Gama, said the union wouldn’t be satisfied until it got R12,500, but it needed to take each offer to the workers. “We cannot say talks are amicable because we did not get the offer that we want, but they are cordial. If the parties are still far apart, it’s difficult to know when it is going to be resolved,” said Gama.

While there’s no end in sight to AMCU’s strike in the platinum sector, the union’s plan to strike at three gold producers, Harmony Gold, AngloGold Ashanti and Sibanye Gold, has been put on hold. Represented by the Chamber of Mines, which negotiates collective agreements for companies in the gold sector, they went to the Labour Court to interdict AMCU from striking.

After a 10-day wait, the court ruled in favour of the Chamber. AMCU represents under 20% of workers in the gold sector and the judgment ruled in favour of the principle of majoritarianism, upholding the central bargaining deal that is agreed to with the majority union that’s applies to other workers from minority unions. Last year, the National Union of Mineworkers, UASA and Solidarity agreed to 7.5% and 8.5% increases last year. AMCU’s demand for a “living wage” could cripple the industry, warned the Chamber.

AMCU members have been determined to strike and the union has until 14 March to argue against the interim interdict in favour of the gold producers. In court, AMCU argued they have a right to strike and may head to the Constitutional Court if they are unsuccessful in the Labour Court. They argued that the negotiation process was flawed and denies workers the right to embark on industrial action. If AMCU members decide to go on strike in spite of the court’s ruling, they won’t be protected and could be dismissed.

Government has warned the mining strikes could severely harm the economy. While announcing an interest rate rise on Wednesday, Reserve Bank Governor Gill Marcus said, “The extent to which the strikes in the mining sector and resulting decline in exports are likely to impede the current account adjustment further will depend on the duration of the strikes and the extent to which lost output can be compensated for by running down inventories. The economic growth outlook remains subdued amid continued low business confidence.”

The National Union of Metalworkers SA (Numsa) announced on Thursday its members at an Amplats smelter also planned to strike. They want a double-digit increase for most of the sector and R2,500 for the lowest paid workers. Numsa General Secretary Irvin Jim said they also wanted an end to workers being strip-searched before they finish their shifts, a strategy employed to prevent workers from stealing. AMCU has said it will not be working with Numsa during the strike. DM

Photo: Striking AMCU workers gather at Marikana (Thapelo Lekgowa)


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