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Platinum strike numbers to emerge in court

Chantelle Benjamin

The cost of Amcu's 15-week wage strike and the data gathered from the mining companies' SMS polls will be made public at the Labour Court.

Amcu members have been on strike for 15 weeks in an attempt to raise their wages. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Detailed information about the impact of the strike and data gathered from SMS polls will be made public on Tuesday when the three platinum miners and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) go to the Labour Court.

Amcu is going to court to stop Impala Platinum (Implats), Lonmin and Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) from continuing their campaign directed at staffers using SMS, radio and visits to labour source areas to encourage them to return to work.

The companies started the campaign after it became clear that the two sides were poles apart and were unlikely to reach an agreement over wages, and have continually said that workers want to return to work but fear their union. Lonmin has already indicated that workers want to accept an employer offer and return to work, which prompted its decision to ramp up operations.

But Amcu leader Joseph Mathunjwa told the Mail & Guardian that it was “unfortunate” that the mining companies had opted to approach miners on their own.

“These workers are organised in terms of the Labour Relations Act, and they are represented by Amcu, and Amcu has been given a mandate to negotiate on their behalf. They [the companies] are inciting division among employees and undermining Amcu.”

He said mine workers had opted overwhelming not to accept the offer by Implats, Lonmin and Amplats.

Hit list
Meanwhile, Implats spokesperson Johan Theron said rumours of a hit list of Lonmin employees who returned to work was very alarming. “It is not clear how [anyone] could have got such a list,” he said. Implats has outsourced all the data that it has received via its SMS campaign, so not even senior staffers know the details, said Theron.

Lonmin was not available for comment on Sunday.

City Press reported on Sunday that it had seen part of the list, which had details of three of the four people murdered last week in Bapong township who returned to work. The fourth victim was a woman – a miner’s wife killed with her husband.

A mineworker who was part of the campaign said talking to the wives of miners who returned to work was the hardest for him. 

“They cry when they speak to me, they are so scared their men are going to die. And what do I say?”

Amcu became the majority union at the platinum belt last year after the Marikana massacre, which saw police shoot and kill 34 minters in a stand-off. But tension has risen between Amcu and the previous majority union, Cosatu-aligned National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

High cost of strikes
Theron said the strike, now in its 16th week, was so advanced that it would cost as much as starting up a new mine to get the existing shafts up and running again. 

“Even if the strike was to end tomorrow it would cost the mines about R3-billion each in working capital and take about three months to get the mines from rock all the way to metal. That is like starting up three massive mines from scratch,” he said.

Theron said Implats opted to close its mining operations because it was concerned about possible violence. Its mine is on care and maintenance and has only retained essential staff, which includes clinic and hospital staff.

The mining companies offered to raise basic wages, including bonuses and living allowances, to R12 500 a month for entry-level workers within five years through increases of between 7.5% for the highest paid staff at Lonmin, 9.5% for Lonmin’s lowest earners, and a 10% increase for the lowest and highest paid staff at Amplats and Implats.

Amcu is standing firm on a demand for a R12 500 basic salary, not including allowances, within four years.

The mines have argued that they cannot afford to pay these salaries for entry level workers who still need to undergo an eight-week training course to provide them with the basics.

“The problem is that original negotiations with the NUM [years ago] was to include pension, educational cover and retirement, which all makes take-home pay lower,” said one mining source.

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