Business Maverick

WAGE TALKS ANALYSIS

Sibanye’s PGM unit reaches pay deal with NUM and Uasa — Amcu declares dispute

Sibanye’s PGM unit reaches pay deal with NUM and Uasa — Amcu declares dispute
From left: Lights from miners’ safety helmets illuminate a mine shaft at the Sibanye-Stillwater Khuseleka platinum mine. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | Striking NUM members march to the Chamber of Mines in Johannesburg on 4 December 2007. (Photo: Nadine Hutton / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | Sibanye-Stillwater Khuseleka platinum mine sign. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Sibanye-Stillwater has reached a five-year wage agreement with NUM and Uasa. But Amcu has declared a dispute, signalling a possible first crack in union solidarity.

Is the bromance between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) over? It’s a fair question to ask after NUM and United Association of South Africa (Uasa) members accepted Sibanye’s offer at its platinum group metals (PGM) operations.

The diversified metals producer said in a statement on Friday, 30 September, that this was “an inflation-linked, five-year offer comprising fixed average annual wage increases of 6% and above for bargaining unit employees for a three-year period, followed by CPI-linked agreements in years 4 and 5, as well as notable increases in benefits”.

This is broadly in line with other wage agreements that NUM and Amcu have both signed up to recently in the platinum sector. Over the past year, the two unions have buried the often-lethal enmity that defined their relationship, starting when they joined forces with three other unions to sign a historic wage agreement with Harmony Gold in September last year.

NUM and Amcu also showed solidarity when their members embarked on a three-month strike against Sibanye’s gold operations earlier this year. Both unions harbour an intense dislike of Sibanye and its blunt-talking CEO Neal Froneman, whose mostly share-based R300-million pay package last year had them seeing red.

For its part, Sibanye says it saved tens of thousands of jobs with its acquisition of Lonmin’s assets in 2019, including the Marikana operation that has been returned to profitability.

Marikana, of course, has a special resonance for Amcu and its charismatic fire-and-brimstone leader Joseph Mathunjwa. A decade after the infamous massacre that bears its name, he may want to make a point and draw a line in the sand.

Metals prices cool

Sibanye’s profits are down, but precious metals prices have cooled and its latest results were hobbled by the gold strike. Still, it recently posted its third-highest six-month profit since it listed in 2013 and an interim dividend of $230-million was declared. Amcu’s view will be that the company can share the spoils more equitably with its workers. 

Amcu is the biggest union at the company’s platinum group metals (PGM) operations. So if its declared dispute, which has been referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for conciliation, is not resolved and its members down tools, the shafts will almost certainly grind to a halt.

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NUM’s members at Sibanye’s PGM operations, by contrast, clearly have no stomach for a protracted strike. With inflation near 13-year highs and fuel and food prices soaring, a miner with many dependants will be hard pressed to do without a monthly wage. 

Why Amcu’s members have decided to go to the CCMA is an open question, but there have long been allegations that the union’s bosses use intimidation to get the rank and file in line — allegations that the union has always denied. 

One hopes that Amcu and NUM’s divergence in this round of wage talks does not herald a possible stoking of tensions between the two unions. Their show of solidarity this past year or so has been the biggest development by a Texas mile on the mining union front. It has been good for both business and labour, reducing one of the key risks to investment in the sector.

Stay tuned folks: the stakes at the CCMA are very high. DM/BM

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