Lonmin: NUM gets a push in the ‘out’ direction

In what is seemingly a move to ensure a safe operating environment at Lonmin this week, the company has back-pedalled on the agreement to give the NUM until July to vacate its offices, revising the deadline to May 31.

With parties not willing to directly discuss matters still before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), a source close to the process said on Monday that: "It's become such a huge thing that Lonmin caved in. It's a case of what's the more important thing; the safety of operations or fighting over offices."

Although Barnard Mokwena, executive vice-president of human capital and external affairs at Lonmin said in the press that last week's CCMA meeting was to discuss "conditions of the recognition agreement", the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) is understood to be sticking to its guns, saying organisational rights thresholds of 30% were agreed to in September last year. The union is accusing the company of taking the side of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) by advocating for a 10% organisational rights threshold as a way of maintaining the NUM's presence at the mine. The NUM's membership in categories four to nine has slipped to 20%, while Amcu's membership across the same categories is around 70%.

Last week, tempers flew as Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa tore into NUM general secretary Frans Baleni during a Radio 702 broadcast. In the show, Mathunjwa claimed that the notice period for the NUM to vacate had, in fact, ended last year. Baleni did not counter this claim directly, except to say that Amcu had been party to a peace accord signing, in which parties had stressed freedom of association as pivotal.

The week of mudslinging included a two-day work stoppage, during which Amcu supporters still reeling from the previous weekend's murder of regional organiser Mawethu Steven took to Wonderkop stadium to vent their frustration at what they saw as the unreasonable presence of the NUM. On the same day of Steven's murder in Photsaneng, a few kilometres away in Nkaneng, Marikana, Ayanda and Andile Menzi, aged 24, were killed in what is believed to be a revenge killing.

De-recognising NUM
?On Friday, Lonmin released a statement saying it "had already begun the process of de-recognising NUM in respect of category 4 to 9 bargaining unit following the significant changes in union membership at its operations. We can confirm that some aspects of this process will be accelerated in order to ease tensions on the ground at Marikana."

The vague talk and deadline shifting created the impression that Lonmin ran out of ideas to protect the NUM and was merely playing a tactical game of chess. In a bid to appear as if some of its teeth were still intact, on Monday the union kicked off wage negotiation season with an announcement that it would demand wage increases in the region of 60%. 

"The National Union of Mineworkers has on Friday submitted its wage demands to the Chamber of Mines for the 2013 wage negotiations," the union announced in a statement. "The union demands that surface workers should receive a minimum amount of R7 000 and underground and opencast workers minimum should be set at R8 000 per month. For all other categories, the NUM has put a demand of 15%. Furthermore, the union demands that rock drill operators' job categories be rolled up to category 8 whilst other categories are rolled up to category 7."

All this top-level maneuvering, however, is a thin veil on a volatile situation in which the fallout of the Marikana massacre stalks every corner. Members of both unions are widely believed to be armed – in self-defence, to commit acts of provocation or for all out murder. 

As the recent suspected suicide of former Lonmim employee Lungani Mabutyana (who was found hanging at the small koppie) illustrates that the ghosts of Marikana smell blood everywhere and their thirst is unquenchable.

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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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