Upstart union claims victory in platinum battle

The union’s president, Joseph Mathunjwa, said on Wednesday that about 15 000 employees at the mine “had found a new home in the AMCU” and that the figure was increasing by the day.

But the union accused the Impala management of dragging its feet over verifying registrations and readjusting its payroll to ensure that union fees were subtracted from its members’ salaries. It said this was supposed to be concluded on May 25.

The union said it had lodged an organisational rights dispute with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, but was still waiting for a date for the matter to be heard.

He said “employees started joining the union by the thousands” after a presentation at the mine earlier this year – before a violent six-week strike in which the AMCU was accused of stoking conflict. The union claims it has overtaken the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) as the majority union at the mine.

Ready for submission
“To date, 11 000 completed stop-order forms were submitted to Impala Platinum mine and about 4 000 forms are in our office, ready for submission,” Mathunjwa said.

He dismissed claims that the union was bullying workers. “Nobody was forced, intimidated or coerced into joining the AMCU. Anybody can see that it is just a public stance for the NUM to suggest that their members were coerced to join the AMCU … We understand that this is done to receive pubic sympathy.”

Implats spokesperson Jan Theron confirmed that he had received “about 10 000 forms” and that the mine was “about a week or two” from completing a verification process, for which it had solicited the services of an independent agency to assist. This was because the AMCU was recruiting already unionised members and not unaffiliated new members.

Theron said about 20 000 workers were unionised at the mine, and acknowled­ged that “there has definitely been some displacement”.

A new dispensation
“Over the past few years, the NUM had grown to be the majority union. Should we need to have more than one union, that wouldn’t be a problem. Considering the legal agreement we have with them [NUM] as the majority union, they would get three months to try to re-establish their membership, failing which one month’s legal notice [would be required] to de-recognise them. So it’s a four-month process. After that, it makes it possible to come up with a new dispensation.”

Theron said the time frame could be shortened if the parties were willing to discuss it, but his sense was that both unions were “pursuing the tactic of winner takes all”.
NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said that, until the verification process had been completed, the AMCU’s claims of having eaten into its membership remained “false”. “They always use force and violence – people died at Impala [during the violent strike],” Seshoka said. “We have stood the test of time; we are not part of the born-yesterday crowd.”

During February’s unprotected strike, which claimed least two lives and left scores injured, it appeared that workers at Implats had lost faith in their union – they heckled and booed its officials in front of Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. He had been summoned to urge the workers to go back to work after a strike that was not endorsed by the NUM, Cosatu’s largest affiliate.

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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