AMCU’s rallying cry during the violent wildcat strike that triggered the Marikana Massacre seven years ago was a living wage of R12,500 a month. Its goal posts, partly in line with inflation, have since moved, and in wage talks with platinum producers this winter, its opening demand is R17,000 per month for its members, the union’s president Joseph Mathunjwa told a news conference on Friday.
Depending on the company, that represents a raise of around 45% to 50% from the current basic wage of roughly R11,000 to R11,500. This figure does not in itself capture a miner’s full package. If cash allowances and other benefits are thrown in, the number is around R16,000 per month. That, AMCU would no doubt argue, is not a lot for risking life and limb in sweltering conditions below ground. Mathunjwa said on Friday that the union’s demands for housing allowances, medical aid and other benefits would almost double the current package to R30,000.
“This is a drop in the ocean compared to what CEOs earn per hour,” said Mathunjwa, who over the years has skilfully exploited worker resentment over South Africa’s glaring income disparities.
The basic wage demands are actually far short of what AMCU has sought in the past – it has started with demands of 100% or more. But the whole package that it is seeking is broadly in line with previous demands as Mathunjwa underlines his well-earned reputation for militancy. It has also not escaped his attention that the companies are generally in better shape than they were during past rounds of wage negotiations.
For their part, company executives have signalled off the record that they can probably absorb above-inflation pay hikes, though not substantially above inflation. This is because they are making money and inflation is low at 4.5%.
Still, the two sides, to begin with, are clearly far apart, and Mathunjwa needs to reassert his authority after a disastrous five-month strike at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold mines that achieved nothing except making AMCU’s members poorer. And platinum is his stronghold. Expect the talks to be protracted and do not discount the prospects of a strike. DM
"Each man believes on his experience" ~ Empedocles