Business Maverick

Business Maverick

NEWS FLASH: Unions apply for strike certificate against Sibanye’s gold operations

From left: Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union president Joseph Mathunjwa. (Photo: Gallo Images / City Press / Tebogo Letsie) | The Sibanye-Stillwater Khuseleka platinum mine. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | National Union of Mineworkers' members protest in Sandton. (Photo: Gallo Images / Daily Sun / Christopher Moagi) | NUM Deputy General Secretary William Mabapa. (Photo: Supplied)

Four unions that have united in wage talks with Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold division applied on Wednesday for a certificate to strike after the talks, which were going nowhere, deadlocked. The timing of any strike remains unclear.

The talks had been expected to deadlock after the unions’ members rejected Sibanye’s latest offer, which the company said was its final one on the table. 

“We declared a deadlock and have applied for the certificate to go on strike and we are waiting for the CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration) to issue us with the certificate. Before we embark on a strike the parties must agree on the picketing rules. We have not decided on when to go on strike,” Livhuwani Mammburu, the spokesman for the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), told Business Maverick. 

 NUM is one of the four unions involved in the talks, the others being the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), Solidarity and UASA. 

“We have adjusted our offer a number of times and made our final offer last week. The offer is already above inflation and we will not raise it further as it will impact on the sustainability of our gold operations,” Sibanye spokesperson James Wellsted told Business Maverick earlier. 

Applying for a certificate to strike is the final legal step required for their members to down tools. The timing of any strike ahead of the Christmas holidays remains unclear.

The company’s latest three-year offer, which it made public last week, would see the lowest-paid employees – category four to eight – receive a monthly increase of R570 in year one, R640 in year two and R670 in year three.

Miners, artisans and officials would receive an increase of 4.5% in year one, 4.9% in year two and 4.9% in year three. That is below the current inflation rate of 5% but the company is using mid-year as its inflation gauge – the increases will be backdated to then. In June, consumer inflation in South Africa was 4.9%.

Sibanye said the offer would lift the wage bill at its gold operations by R1.4-billion by 1 July 2023 “and excludes concessions made in respect of non-wage demands”.

The unions have signalled that they would be likely to accept an offer along the lines of the one Harmony Gold agreed to in September, where the category four to eight employees would receive wage hikes of R1,000 a month for each of the three years. 

The unions, notably NUM, have maintained that Sibanye is making enough money from its PGM operations to make a similar offer in its gold division. The company says it does not cross-subsidise across its asset base.  

Sibanye, with its diversified production base and solid balance sheet, is probably positioned to withstand a strike at its gold operations if it ultimately comes to that. It remains to be seen if the workforce has the appetite for a prolonged strike which could potentially lead to shaft closures down the road. Capital in this stand off may have the edge over labour. DM/BM

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