Business Maverick


Sibanye-Stillwater in mediation with striking unions while wage talks remain deadlocked

Sibanye-Stillwater in mediation with striking unions while wage talks remain deadlocked
Sibanye Stillwater employees affiliated to Amcu and NUM protest on 9 May 2022 in Driefontein. (Photo: Gallo Images / City Press / Tebogo Letsie)

Rebooted wage talks between Sibanye-Stillwater, NUM and Amcu resume for a third day on Monday, 30 May, under the mediation of the CCMA. They remain deadlocked — but at least the strike has not been violent.

Wage talks resumed between Sibanye-Stillwater and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) on Thursday, 26 May, and Friday, 27 May, Business Maverick has confirmed. Sources say another round will take place on Monday, 30 May. 

The strike at Sibanye’s South African gold operations has dragged on for almost three months. The union rank and file must be feeling the pinch as food and fuel prices spike. 

The unions appear to be standing by their demand for hikes of R1,000 a month for the lowest-paid categories each year over the course of three years, which is what Harmony Gold agreed to last year. Sibanye maintains it cannot afford this and the operations are marginal even at current prices, which are relatively high by historical standards at about $1,850 an ounce.

Business Maverick understands that the independent mediators from the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) proposed a hike of R700 a month in the first year plus a one-off R3,000 payment — a liquidity shot to help households that may be on the brink with creditors circling. Year two would see the R1,000 a month increase, while year three would be R900. Artisans and officials would get a 5% pay raise each year, which is below the consumer inflation rate of 5.9%. That is expected to accelerate higher in coming months.

This was rejected at a mass meeting of NUM and Amcu members, a source with direct knowledge told Business Maverick. So the talks remain deadlocked, although Monday’s meeting could still yield some progress. 

One noticeable thing about this strike has been the lack of violence, or at least reported incidents of people getting injured. The previous strike at Sibanye’s gold mines — which lasted five months and ended in April 2019 — was carried out by Amcu alone after it refused to sign up to the agreement inked by rival unions. Nine people were killed in violence linked to the strike and more than 60 houses of NUM supporters were reportedly torched during the industrial action.

Five-month strike at Sibanye-Stillwater gold mines has ended after Amcu decided to cut its losses

That strike weakened Amcu’s hand and may explain why it has now united with its former rivals. This is no bad thing. Anyone who thinks that union rivalry has been unfairly blamed for much of the often violent unrest that has rocked the platinum belt and gold mining communities in recent years should note that when Amcu plays ball with other unions, there is no or, at least, far less violence. When it goes alone — and it does not have a monopoly on labour violence by any means — things tend to get ugly. 

In addition, deals have been signed without workers downing tools. The platinum wage talks in 2019 were the first sign of this apparent thaw, and the Harmony deal last year was another one.

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Amplats deal

Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) announced last week that it had signed a five-year wage deal with NUM, Amcu and the Uasa union.

“The wage agreement increases salary and salary-related allowances which will increase the total labour cost-to-company, on average, by 6.6 % per annum over the five-year period,” the company said. The bottom line is that it is effectively a 7.5% pay hike for the lowest-paid workers. 

It must be said that Amplats has, for the past couple of years, almost been printing money as the prices for platinum group metals (PGMs) have surged. The same can be said for Sibanye’s PGM operations, and it will be under pressure to reach a similar deal. 

Unions’ demands will also be contained by the Amplats’ deal. The initial wage demands from Amcu at Sibanye’s Marikana operations was for a hike of almost 40%, Business Maverick exclusively reported in early May, but its members will probably be open to a settlement along the lines set by Amplats.

EXCLUSIVE: Amcu’s Marikana PGM miners demand pay hikes of up to 40% from Sibanye 

It remains to be seen if the bosses are as receptive. Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa clearly has Sibanye’s Neal Froneman in his sights, and the CEO has no fan base among NUM and other unions either. The gold strike does appear to be at least partly rooted in a personal vendetta against Froneman, whose mostly share-based R300-million remuneration package has union leaders seeing red. 

It’s also worth noting that Sibanye’s operations compared with its peers tend to be labour-intensive and deep level. Amplats sold most of its assets along those lines to Sibanye as a key part of a deliberate pivot to mechanisation. Having less labour issues was clearly one of the reasons behind this move. 

NUM and Amcu members have been camping out at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, hoping for President Cyril Ramaphosa to get involved. Who knows who is calling who behind the scenes. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if Monday’s mediated talks lead to a breakthrough. DM/BM


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