South Africa

Platinum strike: The negotiation table’s depressing emptiness

By Greg Nicolson 6 March 2014

Six weeks after the start of the Association Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) strike began at Impala Platinum (Implats), Lonmin and Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) negotiations have made little progress. In fact, they’ve stopped. While AMCU has finally shown it’s willing to play ball, there’s no love lost between the union and the platinum producers. By GREG NICOLSON.

Wednesday’s press release from the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), which has been mediating the wage negotiations, is telling. “Given that parties still remain far apart at this stage, the CCMA has decided to adjourn the process to give all parties an opportunity to reflect on their respective decisions,” it noted. CCMA director Narine Kahn continued in the tone of a schoolteacher, “The mediation process can be expected to resume once parties have considered their positions and indicated a willingness to return to the negotiating table.”

AMCU launched its strike at the three platinum companies on 23 January demanding a “living wage” of R12,500 per month for entry-level workers. There’s been little love lost. While AMCU has until this week held strong in its demands, the mining houses say they can’t afford the raises and are offering between 7.5% and 9%. They believe the industry is under pressure and can’t give into such high demands, especially after large increases in the wake of the Marikana Massacre, when mining companies were forced to act. Drawing a line in the sand, Amplats is even suing AMCU for almost R600 million in strike-related damages and has called for the union’s president, Joseph Mathunjwa, and other leaders to be arrested for being in contempt of court for breaking picketing rules.

“We remain far apart. The revised demand by AMCU of an average basic wage increase of between 25% to 35% year-on-year over a four-year period remains unaffordable. We urge AMCU to take this opportunity to reflect on, and inform its constituents of, our current offer,” said the platinum CEOs Chris Griffith, Terence Goodlace and Ben Magara in a joint statement on Wednesday. “We remain committed to negotiating within our settlement zone and in good faith. It is, however, imperative that the economic realities are taken into account during this process to ensure the sustainability of the industry.” They say their offer will give entry-level underground workers a minimum of between R10,900 and R11,900 in the third year of the deal.

Amplats CEO Griffith, in charge of the world’s largest platinum producer, commented on Wednesday: “Anglo American Platinum is discouraged by the turn of events at the CCMA. We have been diligent and transparent in engaging all our stakeholders on the financial position of the Company, a position which led to the restructuring of the business in 2013. At the CCMA, my team of specialists has been ensuring that AMCU is apprised of what is achievable and sustainable to preserve jobs. We are hopeful, though, that AMCU will come to recognise and appreciate the realities of the company’s position and will work towards a solution that will benefit its members. We remain open to further engagements to help bring the strike to an end.”

On the current prices, Implats says it has lost about R2 billion in revenue. Amplats is losing R100 million a day, pushing losses towards R6 billion. Lonmin says it won’t meet its production targets this year and has lost around R2 billion in revenue.

This week, AMCU lowered its demand for the first time. Now it says entry-level workers should be paid R12,500 within three years, instead of its earlier demand that the figure be reached immediately.

Many wondered whether AMCU would be able to control its members during the strike and keep its word that the industrial action would be peaceful. Last week, police said one of the union’s shop stewards at Impala was arrested for illegal firearm and ammunition possession, which they linked to the broader trend of killings of mineworkers. Two men accused of attempted murder against a non-striking worker at Amplats also appeared in the Rustenburg Magistrates Court last week. Intimidation and violence is often seen as resulting from a turf war between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and AMCU. The latter remains under pressure to secure a good deal in the current strike after NUM achieved pay increases of up to 9.5% during a protracted strike at Northam Platinum earlier this year.

Meanwhile, AMCU members will march to the Union Buildings on Thursday. They want to present a memorandum directed at the president, government leaders and platinum bosses. In the high stakes battle of mining industrial action, the march will bring the mineworkers’ plight from Rustenburg to Pretoria and is an attempt to force urgency on government and mining companies. DM

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Photo: AMCU’s leader, Joseph Mathunjwa. (Thapelo Lekgowa

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