PAY DEMANDS ANALYSIS
Amcu’s Mathunjwa has a strong message for Sibanye ahead of wage talks
Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa has a message for Sibanye-Stillwater ahead of wage talks with the company’s platinum unit: after four meetings if there is no deal in sight, the union will call a dispute.
The last big round of wage talks in the platinum group metals (PGMs) sector kicks off next week between the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and Sibanye-Stillwater. Amcu on Tuesday signed a five-year wage agreement with Impala Platinum (Implats), a deal that was reached with no strike. Both the broad terms and the lack of a strike or even a dispute mirrored the pact that was recently agreed with Anglo American Platinum (Amplats).
The Sibanye talks may not be as smooth sailing. Mathunjwa regards Sibanye and its CEO, Neal Froneman, with transparent hostility. If there is a mining company that still presses his buttons, it’s Sibanye.
For one thing, the agreements that have been reached begin on 1 July — an unprecedented state of affairs in the PGM sector. In the past, wage pacts have usually been reached months after the previous ones expired.
“We wanted to start early with them but they [Sibanye] said no, we want to start when the agreements end,” Mathunjwa said after the signing ceremony in Johannesburg with Implats.
“That is sheer arrogance … it’s the sheer arrogance of the Sibanye CEO, he just wants to be different,” he said.
You can kind of see where this is going. The shape of a pear comes to mind.
Mathunjwa went on to say that there would not be “a marathon, like in gold”. Amcu joined its former archrival, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), in a recent three-month strike at Sibanye’s gold mines, which came after several months of often intense talks.
“I think four meetings will be enough,” he said. “Then we declare a dispute. It’s as simple as that. Or we reach an agreement.”
Mathunjwa said that with the other PGM producers, from the first meeting it was clear that things were moving in the right direction.
This does not mean that a Sibanye platinum strike is inevitable. Surging inflation at the moment may fuel worker demands, but a rising cost of living also raises the costs of downing tools.
And essentially, a template has been established that Amcu members will probably want to follow. The full details of the Implats deal remain unclear, but the company and the union said in a joint statement that “it is in line with current mining inflation of 6.5% and considers the sustained inflationary pressures faced by employees”.
Business Maverick reported exclusively in May that Amcu’s original demand to Sibanye from its Marikana members was for a pay hike of close to 40% in just the first year.
That was based on a demand for a minimum monthly wage of R20,000 for the lowest-paid workers, who currently earn about R14,500 a month in basic pay, plus further cash and other benefits. Mathunjwa said the demands were now “almost the same” as they sought from the other PGM producers.
Will Sibanye follow the lead of its peers? That will depend on what it calculates to be the potential profits from the operations and various other metrics. Like its peers, the company has posted record profits of late, though PGM prices currently are well down from their recent lofty heights.
And Mathunjwa seems back in his old colourful form, working the crowd of Amcu members who attended the signing ceremony with singing, dancing and prayers.
Both Mathunjwa and Froneman are not shy to speak their minds. If nothing else, the next round of wage talks in the PGM sector look set to be more interesting than what we have seen this year with the other big producers. DM/BM
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