The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) demands from Marikana were sent on 28 March to Sibanye, which has said it does not plan to officially start wage talks before June — in line with normal timing. But they give a clear indication of what Amcu is targeting at a time when it is united with its former arch-rival, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), in a combined strike at Sibanye’s South African gold operations which began almost two months ago. The united front posed by Amcu and NUM suggests that NUM’s own demands from Sibanye’s platinum group metals (PGM) division will be in a similar vein.
To wit, the key demands outlined in the document are as follows:
“The entry-level minimum for all underground workers to be R20,000.00 [Categories 4 – 9]” while for more skilled workers such as artisans the demand is for a “15% increase on the basic rate of pay.”
When a three-year wage deal was reached late in 2019, the basic pay component at Sibanye for PGM miners was to have been around R14,500 a month, which would be the current wage. So R20,000 would represent an almost 40% increase on that. The demands appear to only be for one year.
And basic pay is not the whole story. Various allowances and other perks mean that the lowest-paid category of workers in Sibanye’s PGM mines is already earning over R20,000 a month in total.
In the gold division, the company and the striking unions are not far apart — the demand is a hike of R1,000 a month, while the offer is R850 a month each year over the course of three years — which raises questions over why it is still ongoing. No one at this stage is going to come out of that dispute a winner.
But it was the striking gold miners from the West Rand and Free State who booed President Cyril Ramaphosa at what was supposed to be a May Day rally on Sunday in the platinum town of Rustenburg. That is a signal of the direction the PGM talks with Sibanye are headed in — toward a potential strike.
Sibanye’s blunt-mannered CEO Neal Froneman at the moment is a focus of worker wrath, especially in the wake of his R300-million 2021 pay packet.
Meanwhile, other PGM producers such as Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) have already started wage talks. The sector as a whole has been posting record profits on record profits, and this has hardly been lost on the unions.
“The average 2021 PGM prices were as follows, platinum was $1,092,74/oz, palladium was at $2,397/oz, rhodium was at $18,074/oz and iridium was at $6,000/oz,” the document outlining Amcu’s wage demands to Sibanye pointedly notes.
It is not clear at this stage what demands will be delivered to Sibanye’s other PGM operations. The company took control of the Marikana operations when it acquired Lonmin and the mine has been turned around into a profitable asset. One imagines the demands will be in the same range.
The typical miner is estimated to have around eight to 10 dependants and rising unemployment and poverty almost certainly mean that many have more mouths to feed these days at a time when fuel and food prices have been going through the roof. It is certainly a socio-economic recipe for union militancy.
Amcu’s demands from Marikana also include “the transfer (of) all Amcu members from the current company retirement scheme to Igula Provident Fund” — a fund that has been mired in controversy. DM/BM