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The Sibanye-Stillwater strike has had devastating consequences – all because of Joseph Mathunjwa’s ambitions


Luphert Chilwane is media officer for the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

The devastating five-month strike by gold miners at Sibanye-Stillwater has ended, with Amcu members accepting the same deal negotiated by other unions in November 2018. The big losers were the union's members who were led into the no-win situation by their lifetime president, Joseph Mathunjwa. But it didn't have to be that way.

Joseph Mathunjwa, the life president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, Amcu, must stop abusing poor mineworkers in order to sustain his lavish lifestyle.

Mathunjwa is always taking the desperation of workers for a ride. He took workers at Sibanye-Stillwater into a five-month-long unpaid and unproductive strike just because he wanted to solidify his relevancy in the face of poor workers.

The five-month strike by Amcu did not achieve anything, but it was characterised by intimidation, violence, and the killings of innocent mineworkers. It brought suffering and misery to the workers. Instead of viewing that as a total failure, Mathunjwa shamelessly went on to claim a victory.

He then went on to insult the workers by accepting essentially the same wage agreement signed in November 2018 by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Uasa, and Solidarity.

Now that the strike has been called off, the workers will be paid what is called a “hardship payment” of R4,000 and they will be forced into a cash loan of about R5,000 to be repaid over 12 months.

It goes without saying that in the process, poor workers lost in a big way. They were made to participate in the strike without getting their basic monthly salaries. The strike wasted workers’ time and brought poverty into workers’ immediate families. A single mineworker supports up to 10 family members.

The agreement signed by NUM, Uasa, and Solidarity in November 2018 covered wages and conditions of service from 1 July 2018 to 30 June 2021. The agreement allowed for increases of R700 per month in the first and second year, and R825 per month in the third year for Category Four to Eight surface and underground employees. Miners, artisans, and officials will receive increases of 5.5% in the first year and 5.5%, or CPI – whichever is greater – in years two and three.

The living-out allowance was increased by R50 to a maximum of R2,150 per month from 1 September 2018 and will reach R2,225 in 2019 and R2,325 in 2020. The guaranteed minimum severance payment was increased to R50,000 over the three-year period.

As a lifetime self-made president of Amcu, it is important for Mathunjwa to sometimes familiarise himself with some basic wage negotiation skills.

Compromise is a basic wage negotiation process in which both parties give up something that they want in order to get something else they want more.

Compromises usually occur in win-lose situations — when there is a fixed pie to be divided up, and whatever one side gets, the other side loses. In compromise situations, neither side gets all of what they really want, but they each make concessions in order to reach an agreement that is acceptable to both.

There are two principal ways to negotiate a compromise. The first is for the parties to go back and forth with offers and concessions until they meet somewhere in the middle.

Now that the strike is over, the NUM is on record demanding the immediate arrest of perpetrators of violence at all Sibanye-Stillwater operations. It can’t be business as usual.

Ever since the strike started in November 2018, NUM members who were not on strike became targets on the basis that the NUM signed a wage agreement after marathon negotiations.

NUM members working for Sibanye-Stillwater in various operations are continuing to count the losses. Up to today, more than 60 houses and 13 vehicles have been burnt out. Nine workers were brutally killed. Other workers have since sustained serious injuries.

This is the extent of the damage so far caused by the violent Amcu strike. DM

Luphert Chilwane is a Media Officer at the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM)


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