South Africa

South Africa

Platinum strike: Ramatlhodi out – no end in sight – what’s next?

Platinum strike: Ramatlhodi out – no end in sight – what’s next?

As expected, discussions on the platinum strike facilitated by Mining Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi ended on Monday without result. Another mediation attempt has failed to break the deadlock as Associated Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) members edge towards five months with no pay. What’s next? Ummm...By GREG NICOLSON.

“No agreement was reached today,” AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa told the media after leaving Monday’s discussions, dashing hopes of the last day of government-led talks ending the four and a half month wage dispute.

In a statement Amplats, Implats and Lonmin, who have chosen to negotiate with the union as a bloc even though the platinum industry often negotiates on a company-by-company basis, unlike the gold sector, said the latest round of discussions “have unfortunately been dissolved without an outcome”.

The producers continued: “The companies thank the Minister of Mineral Resources, Advocate Ngoako Ramatlhodi, and Deputy Minister, Mr Godfrey Oliphant, and members of the inter-governmental technical task team for their initiatives and efforts. During this process the producers have sought to arrive at a fair and sustainable settlement that would preserve the future of the platinum industry and limit job losses in the country. While the producers remain committed to a negotiated settlement, they will now review further options available to them.”

When Ramatlhodi was appointed minister he said his first task was to help end the mining strike, which he said needed to be done before he focused on other duties. His team led numerous discussions over the last two weeks but its work seems to have been cut short by the ANC, who this weekend cautioned the minister over getting involved in a labour dispute, one that relates closely to opposition parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) and has seen the ANC’s ally the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) claim its members are being intimidated and attacked by AMCU strikers.

Despite the failure to reach Ramatlhodi’s goal, the state was trying to put a positive spin on the abrupt end to its intervention. Speaking to Kaya FM on Monday night, Mineral Resources spokesperson Mahlodi Muofhe, said, “The minister informed the parties […] that he believes since his establishment of the task team a fortnight ago a lot of ground has been covered in trying to narrow the gaps.” The companies and the union are all feeling the heat and don’t want the strike to continue in the coming months, added Muofhe.

According to Reuters, Mathunjwa said AMCU moved its position twice during the talks to accommodate the platinum producers, while also sticking to its demand that in the coming years the companies pay entry-level underground workers a basic salary of R12,500 a month. The last reported offer from the producers was an R800 per year increase to the lowest paid workers, significantly lower than what AMCU’s asking.

Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister for mineral resources James Lorimer on Monday said Ramatlhodi’s withdrawal from discussions “displays a distinct lack of leadership in the face of our very serious economic challenges”. The DA MP continued, “At the first available opportunity, the DA will submit a motion without notice, urging the house to unanimously encourage the minister to honour his commitment and help find a resolution to the strike, through providing additional development funds to mining communities. The Minister’s decision to abandon these negotiations will undoubtedly compromise them, our economy, as well as the Minister and his department’s credibility in future.”

Lorimer said government should change its system of mining royalty investments by sending the money through an independent agency that could benefit communities and companies at the same time.

ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe’s comments on Sunday that the strike could be political rather than pay-related because of the influence of foreign nationals elicited a response from WASP. A Swedish national, WASP’s Liv Shange has been singled out in the past by Mantashe for organising in mining areas. Last year, Mantashe told an audience Marikana was caused by “anarchy, anarchy – anarchy driven by people who are from far away… Sweden, Irish.” Later, it was clear he blamed Shange. (It’s interesting to note Mantashe was previously general secretary of NUM, who apparently lost members in the platinum belt to AMCU in 2012 not because of any particular brilliance on AMCU’s part, but unhappiness with NUM and its leadership.)

WASP, which has deep ties to mining areas, responded on Monday, “We condemn this attempt by the ANC to again play a racist, xenophobic card to draw attention away from how its government and the capitalist economy it presides over is failing to address the needs of mineworkers and the working class in general.” Shange said, “Of course the ongoing platinum strike is political, for both workers and employers, in the sense that it is a contestation for power over the wealth of society, but the mineworkers don’t need me or any foreigner to come and tell them that.” Instead of looking for a “third force” the ANC should realise that instability will continue until the state can address inequality, WASP added.

Each day this week, a group of community organisations and NGOs will picketing in support of AMCU’s demands outside the Chamber of Mines and Anglo American offices in Johannesburg building up to a larger rally on Friday. There’s been no word on when the union will next meet the platinum producers. The companies said they would review “further options” going forward. It seems the parties could continue with under mediation by the Labour Court, but unless either the producers or union is set to let go of their firm positions and significantly buckle to the opposition, there’s no end in sight to the industrial action.

Minister Ramatlhodi, meanwhile, is set to brief media on Tuesday morning. DM

Read more:

  • Ngoako Ramatlhodi: Straight into the platinum fire in Daily Maverick

Photo: Striking platinum miners sing during a rally near Lonmin’s Marikana mine. (REUTERS/Mike Hutchings)

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