/ 22 January 2014

Amcu strike ruling delayed

The Industrial Action Report has found that most of the working days lost by industry were in the mining sector
The Industrial Action Report has found that most of the working days lost by industry were in the mining sector

A planned Amcu strike in the gold sector was delayed when the ruling on an application to prevent it was postponed by the Johannesburg Labour Court on Wednesday.

Judge Hamilton Cele postponed the matter to January 30.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union intended to strike in the gold sector on Thursday after issuing employers with strike notices. The union wanted an entry-level monthly salary of R12 500.

Strikes were scheduled to take place at Sibanye Gold's Driefontein mine, Harmony Gold's Kusasalethu and Masimong mines, and at all AngloGold Ashanti's South African operations.

Gold producers represented by the Chamber of Mines resolved to challenge the legality of the strike and seek damages from the union.

Anton Myburgh, for the Chamber of Mines, argued that the labour court was the appropriate entity to deal with the matter as it had exclusive jurisdiction to grant an interdict. "One of the primary duties of this court … is to interdict strikes," Myburgh said.

If Cele did not agree to issue an order preventing the strike, the chamber would ask for an interim relief order.

Myburgh said that in June, Amcu sought an industry-wide wage agreement.

On September 10, the three majority unions at Harmony Gold, Sibanye and Anglo Gold Ashanti, under the umbrella of the Chamber of Mines, signed a two-year wage agreement. The agreement was extended to minority unions, including Amcu. 

Myburgh contended that both the benefits and binding conditions, including a waiver of the right to strike, were conferred to Amcu. He argued that Amcu was a minority union at each company, which constituted a single workplace.

Paul Kennedy SC, for Amcu, argued that individual mines, rather than the mining groups they belonged to, should be regarded as the individual workplace. As such, Amcu constituted the majority at some workplaces, or mines, for the purposes of organisational rights. Therefore the union should not be bound by last year's agreement with majority unions.

The "central pillar" of Kennedy's argument, however, was that of Amcu members' constitutional right to strike. There were a number of possible interpretations of sections of the Labour Relations Act regarding collective agreements and their extension to minority unions. The question as to which interpretations should be implemented needed to consider which "gives greater effect to … the constitutional, unqualified right to strike," Kennedy argued.

In reply, Myburgh said the labour court was the expert and Cele should not be scared by the Constitution.

Were a new collective agreement drawn up, the result would be chaos, he argued. "A situation where the minority dictates to the majority is clearly untenable."

Cele: Strike should not proceed
Cele announced just before
4pm that he would not be able to rule on the matter on Wednesday as expected. He said he was unlikely to be able to give his ruling until January 30, as he would be sitting in Cape Town next week. He therefore proposed that the strike not proceed, but said this should not be taken as an indication that he had granted the Chamber of Mines an interdict to prevent the strike. 

Kennedy said Amcu would take all reasonable measures to communicate the postponement of the strike. The union was concerned that some members would not get the message in time and sought assurance from the employers that workers who did not arrive on time for work on Thursday would not face disciplinary measures.

Myburgh said that assurance could not be given. – Sapa