More than 4,000 Numsa members employed by contract at the three companies, Newrak, Reagetswe Mining Group and Triple M Mining, downed tools on Tuesday. The companies do work in Rustenburg for Implats, which flagged a Numsa recruiting drive last year in the area as a source of disruption.
Numsa said in a statement earlier this week that its members had been “provoked into taking this drastic action because they are fed up with being abused by these labour brokers who exploit them by paying them very little and denying them benefits while they reap massive profits.”
Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola was quoted by EWN as saying that rock drill operators or RDOs “earn not more than R5,000 a month with no benefits” compared to the minimum of R17,000 per month with benefits that Implats’ own RDOs made.
In a joint statement on Thursday, the three companies rubbished this allegation.
“We have noted claims that Numsa has made about ‘exploitative’ wages and working conditions. This is false, including the claim that some earn ‘R5,000 a month’. No employee earns anything near that low amount for a full month’s work,” the companies said.
One of the things in play here is Numsa’s attempts to recruit – or poach – members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which has recently made peace with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Industry and union sources have told Business Maverick that this is stoking tensions around Rustenburg, a flashpoint of labour violence in the past.
“To the extent that the strike relates to demands for union recognition, there are different circumstances applying at the three companies. AMCU is the majority union at Reagetswe and Triple M, with Numsa representing between 16% and 26% of employees. At Triple M, Numsa was given limited organising rights to enable them to improve their representation. However, after 14 months, they were unable to improve their representation,” the three companies said in a statement.
“In contrast, Numsa is the largest union at Newrak and is recognised by the company. Newrak cannot offer Numsa access rights on Impala’s property. They were however offered office facilities outside the Impala property. This offer was rejected by Numsa,” it said.
An office on mine premises is something unions covet as it provides a recruitment base in the heart of the flock.
Reagetswe on Tuesday won an interdict against the strike, which declared it to be “unprotected” – effectively a wildcat strike – and the employees have been directed to return to work.
“Triple M and Newrak will be applying for interdicts in the course of this week. We trust Numsa will recognise that unprotected strikes could have implications for members’ job security, and that they make the responsible decision of calling off the strike … The companies are small businesses and can ill afford a loss in production. Losses this week have amounted to some R30 million,” the companies said.
They also said that their work has helped to save jobs that were on the block.
“It is essential to note that the three contractor companies are commissioned to undertake a very different type of mining from standard Impala operations. We are hired to mine shorter-life and hence higher cost mines. This means that our cost structures are very different. One of the shafts was identified for closure by Impala in 2017 and is being mined by one of the contractor companies, preserving 3,000 jobs over the past five years.”
Implats spokesman Johan Theron told Business Maverick that the strike’s impact on its production had so far been minimal.
That may not be the case in a few weeks’ time. Social unrest on the platinum belt remains rife, but labour tensions had been cooling. Business Maverick understands that some of those involved in the strike have held up posters that read “RIP Amcu.” An emerging Numsa/Amcu turf war would certainly heat things up again. DM/BM