South Africa

Labour Strife

Amcu threatens strike over planned retrenchment of 13,400 Implats workers

File photo of AMCU's Joseph Mathunjwa by Greg Nicolson. Photo of Joseph Mathunjwa by Greg Nicolson.

Amcu President Joseph Mathunjwa said on Tuesday that the trade union doesn't make threats. It will shut down Impala Platinum if the company proceeds with plans to axe 13,400 jobs. The union has done it before. Now it's up to negotiations to avoid another strike in an already crippled economy.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) warned it would go on strike at Impala Platinum (Implats) and any associated companies if the mining giant retrenches 13,400 workers under its broad two-year restructuring strategy.

Amcu represents over 70% of the unionised workforce in the platinum sector and dominates even further at Implats.

The company announced last week that it would stop operations at five Rustenburg shafts and cut its labour-intensive workforce to reform operations after not making a profit for the last six years amidst rising costs and a weakened platinum price.

The announcement has angered unions and the government. The company must now consult employees, unions, the department of mineral resources and the department of labour under regulations in the Labour Relations Act.

Implats is also required to consult under Section 52 of the Mineral Resources Development Act. The mineral resources department has said it had irresponsibly made the retrenchment announcement before consultations began.

If the consultation fails and all our avoidance measures are not considered and are put into practice, we are not going to run to the Labour Court. We don’t have money,” said Mathunjwa.

We will use what’s at our disposal, which is power. We’ll hit where it hurts most,” he said, threatening industrial action at other Implats operations and companies linked downstream to the platinum producer.

We want to tell them, even they can unleash this threat of retrenchment. We will fight. They will never get our members on a silver platter,” he continued.

What I know for sure is Amcu will never stomach 13 000 workers going home.”

Mathunjwa would not detail proposals to avoid job losses, but Amcu has previously suggested employees be transferred to other departments and voluntary separation packages.

Implats has around 42 000 employees, including contractors, and the company’s CEO Nico Muller last week said the retrenchments are necessary to ensure its long-term sustainability and save the majority of workers’ jobs.

While employee rationalisation is inevitable in a restructuring process of this nature, due care will be taken to ensure that job losses are minimised as far as possible through a range of job loss avoidance measures,” said Muller.

The Implats announcement follows Sibanye-Stillwater’s plans to take over platinum producer Lonmin and cut 12,600 jobs. Mathunjwa said the retrenchments are “the most significant in history”.

(The) gloves will be off,” said the union leader.

Implats’s plans have been criticised by Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe, Cosatu and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

Mantashe said the move was “a clear example of a company that is careless and mindlessly committed to implementing its predetermined outcome; no matter how unworkable that might be. Their reckless actions add injury to insult”.

NUM and Cosatu will demonstrate against the retrenchments on 17 August. Mathunjwa claimed that NUM, Amcu’s rival, would not participate in the consultations as it does not have members at Implats.

The stand-off has been compared to Anglo American Platinum’s 2013 plans to cut 14,000 jobs. Former mineral resources minister Susan Shabangu and unions fiercely opposed the move and the company significantly reduced the number of workers axed.

Mathunjwa said the reaction led to only 3,000 job losses, most through voluntary retrenchment and early retirement options.

South Africa’s official and unofficial unemployment rates increased in the second quarter of 2018. While some mining sectors are doing better than others, there has been a significant reduction in mining employment in recent years.

This is self-manufactured, self-inflicted unemployment by the government. We lack leadership in this country,” said Mathunjwa.

He noted US President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy and called for South Africa to focus on more nationalist and protectionist economic policies to promote local investment and ownership.

We call on the state to review all our trade and industrial policies. The focus should be to develop our own industry and protect our own economy. This will save jobs and create new jobs,” he said.

The number of fatalities in the mining industry has risen drastically in 2018 and while criticising companies who fail workers, Mathunjwa noted the challenges employees face.

The sad reality is that, if workers are not killed in mining accidents, they are still confronted by the wrath of greedy mining bosses who will do everything in their power to retain their huge salaries and bonuses.”

The annual commemoration of the 2012 Marikana Massacre will be held in the Rustenburg mining town next week. DM


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