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LABOUR PAINS

Wildcat underground and surface strike ends at Sibanye’s Kroondal PGM mine

Wildcat underground and surface strike ends at Sibanye’s Kroondal PGM mine
Illustrative image: Sibanye Stillwater employees affiliated to Amcu and NUM protest at the mine's stadium in Driefontein on 29 May 2022. (Photo: Gallo Images / City Press / Tebogo Letsie)

A wildcat strike that started on Monday involving more than 450 employees has ended at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Kroondal platinum mine in North West. More than 200 of the workers were underground at the Kwezi shaft while 250 downed tools on the surface at another shaft.

South Africa’s latest unprotected underground strike is over. 

Sibanye-Stillwater spokesperson James Wellsted told Daily Maverick the protest over an employee share ownership scheme (ESOP), which began on Monday, had ended by Wednesday morning.

“About 30 are still down but should all come up,” he said at 10am on Wednesday, referring to the more than 200 workers who had remained underground at Kroondal’s Kwezi shaft. He also said the strike on the surface by 250 workers at the K6 shaft had fizzled. 

The protest, which mirrored a spate of similar wildcat mining strikes in South Africa late last year, centred on an apparent misunderstanding regarding ESOP payments. 

Sibanye employees at the nearby Rustenburg and Marikana platinum operations had received their annual ESOP payments on Friday, triggering resentment in the Kroondal shafts. 

Sibanye maintains Kroondal employees will receive ESOP benefits after it completes its acquisition of Anglo American Platinum’s 50% stake in the operation.

“They will all face disciplinary procedures, which may involve dismissal,” Wellsted said of the employees who took part in the strike. 

That will almost certainly be resisted by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) which said its members were intimidated and held underground against their will – an echo of the protests late last year at the Gold One operations on the East Rand. 

South Africa’s mining sector has in recent years had relatively little unrest, in large part because NUM and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union buried the hatchet on their intense and sometimes violent rivalry. 

Trends such as mechanisation have also undermined the bargaining power of mine unions, while more than two decades of mostly above-inflation wage hikes and a vastly improved safety record have doused the embers of militancy. 

But sparks can still fly in these tough economic times. Most mine workers support several dependants in an economy with an unemployment rate of almost 33%, and that can stir things up if they feel they are getting a raw deal. 

Yet the underground protests last year and this one appeared to have achieved nothing, which means the ringleaders have also been offering workers a raw deal. DM

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