Amcu: Retrenchments aimed at stopping union's growth

Job losses could affect permanent staff and contract workers. (Gallo)

Job losses could affect permanent staff and contract workers. (Gallo)

Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) president Joseph Mathunjwa said the wave of Section 189a notices [of intent to retrench] sweeping the platinum and gold sectors were part of a pattern to stop the growth of the union.

Speaking to journalists in a press conference earlier on Thursday, Mathunjwa said "the coincidences" raised suspicion, and as it always had to fight protracted battles to gain organisational rights, the union could not rule out the possibility of a conspiracy against it.

"The strategy of the employers at Aquarius [Platinum] was that as soon as Amcu became the majority, they shut down the mine. At Kusasalethu now that we are the majority, they have threatened to shut down the mine. The same happened at BHP Billiton's Douglas Colliery mine. It is a trend and I don't think that the workers who are saying it are far from the truth," he added.

After days of considering legal action, the union has lodged an interdict to reverse the locking out of workers who reported to work on January 2, on the grounds that the company did not follow the proper notification procedures. Mathunjwa said the company only notified workers of its intentions to close the mine indefinitely in January.

In an interview with the Mail & Guardian last week, Harmony Gold's spokesperson Marian van der Walt said the company had notified workers of its intentions before they left for the December break and continued to do so while the workers were at home. Workers interviewed by the M&G denied this, saying they only began receiving messages on December 31.

Mathunjwa said the situation at the mine descended into chaos after the company failed to implement the agreements set down by the Chamber of Mines, which were announced on October 24. These included a wage increase. Workers at the mine embarked on an unprotected strike in early October, which coincided with the wave of strikes that flared up after the Marikana massacre.  

Warning was 'imposed unprocedurally'
A company document entitled "Sequence of illegal industrial action events" shows that the disciplinary records of workers that participated in October's illegal industrial action "have been endorsed with a 'final written warning'" – which workers say was imposed unprocedurally.  

Workers at the mine were still squatting in a corrugated iron church at the nearby Wedela township after being ejected by the company's security guards on January 12. They were relying on the goodwill of the neighbouring community to survive as the company had allegedly deducted January's living-out allowances.

The last three months of the year, including October's unprotected strike, were characterised by disruptions to production as well as several underground sit-ins and injuries as mine security staff tried to maintain order.

On November 22, two workers were killed when shots were fired at them, allegedly from the direction of the NUM office. All these resulted in losses of over R250-million for the quarter.

In a previous interview with the Mail & Guardian, chief executive Graham Briggs said the mine still had at least 25 years of life left in it but there was no way the company could continue production under the current circumstances, while Amcu accused it of not professionally handling its industrial relations issues.

Parties have until March to come up with an amicable solution to prevent job losses, which could affect the 5 200 permanent staff and about 800 contract workers.  

The matter regarding whether workers will have access to their accommodation facilities will be heard in the Johannesburg High Court on January 22.

Harmony Gold management could not be reached for comment.

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011. Read more from Kwanele Sosibo

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