Business Maverick

LABOUR RELATIONS

Sibanye in five-year wage deal with Amcu and NUM, suggesting Gold One flare-up is contained

Sibanye in five-year wage deal with Amcu and NUM, suggesting Gold One flare-up is contained
Despite safety improvements in the mining industry, challenges remain, highlighting ongoing efforts to enhance safety practices. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Diversified metals producer Sibanye-Stillwater said on Monday it had reached a five-year wage agreement with Amcu and NUM at its Kroondal platinum mine in North West. This is a big deal as it shows that the flare-up at Gold One has not spread to other mines.

Another day, another five-year wage deal inked in South Africa’s platinum group metal (PGM) sector with multiple unions, including former archrivals the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).  

This latest PGM wage deal, concluded at Sibanye’s mechanised Kroondal mine near Rustenburg, follows similar inflation-linked agreements at the company’s other PGM mines. 

“The agreement is inflation-linked, with category 4-8 employees [the lowest-paid workers] receiving an increase of a minimum of 6% in each of the five years of the agreement. Miners, artisans and officials will receive an increase of 6% in each year of the five-year agreement,” Sibanye said.  

PGM producers such as Impala Platinum and Anglo American also nailed down five-year wage pacts last year linked to inflation with the NUM, Amcu and other unions. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Implats secures five-year wage deal with Amcu; Numsa member murdered in Rustenburg 

So, this latest agreement — like other recent ones, reached without a tool being downed — is part of a welcome trend bringing much-needed stability to South Africa’s PGM sector, which was rocked for years by labour unrest partly rooted in the bloody rivalry between the NUM and Amcu. 

Pointedly, it also indicates that, at least for now, the recent hostage/sit-in drama at the Gold One mine on the East Rand — the biggest flare-up for years between the NUM and Amcu — appears to have not yet spread to the PGM sector.  

That four-day drama in late October saw the NUM accuse Amcu of holding more than 500 of its members hostage underground — a serious allegation. Amcu, for its part, claimed it was a sit-in and that most of the miners at Gold One wanted to join its ranks after becoming disgruntled with the NUM. Police did open a kidnapping case and it remains to be seen what turn labour relations will take at Gold One. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Tears and joy as mine workers return safely to the surface after Gold One hostage drama 

It was a saga that had the hallmarks of NUM/Amcu conflicts in the past in the PGM and gold sectors and one that potentially signalled the end of the honeymoon between the two unions. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Gold One mine ‘hostage’ drama signals possible end of NUM-Amcu honeymoon 

And yet, less than two weeks after the Gold One miners returned to the surface, the NUM and Amcu have together signed a five-year wage agreement at a Sibanye PGM mine.  

This also comes against the backdrop of Sibanye launching a Section 189 process at Kroondal, Marikana and Rustenburg that could potentially see more than 4,000 employees laid off — a state of affairs that in the past has stoked labour unrest in that area of the Platinum Belt.  

With PGM prices and producer profits far down from the record prices and earnings that were seen two years ago, the industry is breathing a collective sigh of relief that it has multiyear wage agreements in place, notably with the NUM and Amcu. 

The conflict between both unions was for a decade the defining feature of labour relations in South Africa’s mining industry. The end of that hostility in the past couple of years — a reflection of the cordial relationship struck by Amcu’s charismatic president, Joseph Mathunjwa, and the NUM’s now suspended general secretary, William Mabapa — has removed a significant element of risk for investors in the sector.  

The mining industry will be hopeful that the Gold One blow-up was a one-off event, and that the wage agreement Sibanye has reached with the NUM and Amcu remains the “new normal”. DM 

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