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Mines minister faces uphill Amcu-platinum belt battle

Chantelle Benjamin

The new mineral resources minister begins his tenure with a difficult task - seeking a solution to the country's longest ever mines strike.

Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi has appealed to both sides to assist government in bringing the longest running strike in the country's history to an end. (Gallo)

Newly appointed Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi plans to make finding a solution to the crippling four-month platinum sector strike one of his first priorities.

He was speaking after the swearing in ceremony for ministers and deputies in Pretoria late on Monday. Ramatlhodi said the strike was “hurting the country”.

“What is needed is to find out what the issues are that are holding back a resolution,” he said. “I am asking business and the miners to back me up to find a solution that can break this deadlock ... It cant be business as usual.”

Ramatlhodi, who replaces Susan Shabangu as head of the ministry under which mining resides, said the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) had every right to strike as the recognised union, and that negotiations would always respect that status. But he appealed to both sides to assist government in bringing the longest running strike in the country’s history to an end.

He said engagement would involve supporting mediation efforts by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Reconciliation.

‘In the interests of all’
Ramatlhodi, a lawyer and former deputy minister of correctional services, begins his tenure with a difficult task.

The strike at Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin has cost the over companies R19-billion in revenue, while employees have given up nearly R9-billion.

Newly appointed Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene also raised his concerns about the strike on Monday evening. “It’s in the interests of all that this be resolved,” he said.

Amcu members at the three companies in the Rustenburg area in the North West downed tools on January 23 after demands for an immediate increase of R12 500, excluding allowances, for entry-level mineworkers were not met.

Amcu has since agreed to staggered increases that would amount to R12 500 in three years.

Labour Court
The companies are offering increases of up to 10% that they say would raise the overall minimum pay package to R12 500 a month by July 2017. But their offer is inclusive of allowances.

Last week, the mining companies and Amcu were persuaded to enter into three days of mediated talks headed by Judge Hilary Rabkin-Naicker, intended to end on Friday.

The union approached the Labour Court to prevent the three companies from communicating with unionised staff about issues relating to the strike. The judge recommended trying to first further negotiations between the two sides as they had last met three weeks prior to the court appearance.

The parties had still not reached an agreement by Friday, but talks continued on Monday.

Nene said he “was hoping that the matter could be resolved in the Labour Court”.

Investor confidence
The shadow of Marikana looms heavily over the strike, amid concerns that it could descend into violence with the death of five miners killed so far.

The lack of exports from this sector is already beginning to negatively impact the country’s economy and investor confidence, something Ramatlhodi said he was well aware of.

Shabangu, his predecessor, has been given the position of head of the ministry of women, which falls under the presidency.

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