Amcu warns of instability

Striking platinum miners. (Delwyn Verasamy)

Striking platinum miners. (Delwyn Verasamy)

The Association of Mineworkes and Construction Union (Amcu) has warned that the move by mining companies to approach workers directly with their latest offer could lead to instability on the platinum belt.

The warning raised the spectre of the violent strike of August 2012, when 44 people were killed at Marikana near Rustenburg – 34 in police shootings on August 16 and 10 people in the preceding week.

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian late Thursday, Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said the move by platinum companies Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Impala Platinum (Implats) and Lonmin to approach workers directly with their offer was likely to “create division among employees and undermine Amcu”.

“It is quite unfortunate to me that they have gone this route,” he said. “These workers are organized in terms of the Labour Relations Act, and they are represented by Amcu, and Amcu has been given a mandate to negotiate on their behalf. They (the companies) are inciting division among employees and undermining Amcu.”

He said workers had voted “overwhelmingly” to reject the mining companies’ offer to raise basic wages, including bonuses and living allowances, to R12 500 a month in five years through increases of between 7.5% for the highest paid staff at Lonmin,  9.5% for Lonmin’s lowest earners and a 10% increase for the lowest and highest paid staff at Amplats and Implats. Union members are demanding a basic wage, excluding bonuses, of R12 500 a month, in four year’s time.

Wage talks collapsed last week, with Amcu accusing the companies of negotiating in bad faith and similar comments being made by Amplats, Implats and Lonmin. Amcu said it would take the offer to workers, but made it clear that it did not support the offer and would inform members of its view, Mathunjwa said.

He said Amcu had challenged Amplats employee figures, which were relevant to discussions around the cost to Amplats, saying that the company had increased the number of workers by 5 000 from 42 000 to 47 000. “We found documents at our offices which showed that in January they only had 42 000 workers and now they were saying they had 5 000 more.”

He said one of the offers on the table would have seen some of Amcu’s members taking home R150 less than they were presently earning. Mathunjwa said: “It was hard negotiating with companies who had to know they were keeping information from us.”

As it became clear that there was not likely to be a resolution, the companies told Amcu that they planned to liaise directly with employees to notify them of the employers’  offer.  “I said fine, and in the meantime we will return to our members with this offer,” he said.

The union president does not believe the companies’  efforts will end the strike: “Workers said at meetings that it has been three months, we are already dead, and we will not accept their offer.”

The deadlock crushed any hopes of an imminent end to the platinum mining strike, which has hit 40% of global platinum production and 60% of South Africa’s annual production of 4-million ounces of platinum. The strike by about 70 000 Amcu workers, which started on January 23, has cost the employers about R15,9bn so far and workers about R7bn.

Platinum companies have taken to the streets of labour sourcing areas and the surrounds of Rustenburg in a bid to convince their workers to take their latest offer, going as far afield as Mozambique. Amplats, Impala and Lonmin launched a campaign last Monday to reach as many employees as possible though cellphone messages, newspaper advertisements and meetings.

Spokesmen for the three mines said the response to their efforts had been largely positive. Implats spokesman Johan Theron said they would be collating their data around the response of workers and expected by early next week to have a better picture of workers’  sentiment with regards to the strike. “The data will give us a better understanding of what they are thinking. We will make our findings available to Amcu once we have collated it so they also have access to the findings,” he said.

The union has yet to inform the companies officially that it has rejected their offer, which Mathunjwa said Amcu planned to do next week.

In a statement issued by the mining houses on Wednesday, April 30, the companies said: “The strike – now in its 14th week – has crippled the three largest PGM producers in the South African platinum sector and has brought untold hardship to employees, their families, communities and the companies.

“The producers ask Amcu to consider the desperate conditions which many of its members find themselves in, and also the situation of other employees who are not members of Amcu but who are being prevented from working.

“Amcu has requested that producers do not communicate the offer directly to employees. The companies cannot accede to this request. The producers have a responsibility to ensure that employees, including Amcu members, are fully apprised of the latest offer and the options open to them.”

The companies went on to say they would prefer a negotiated settlement with Amcu, and urged employees to provide the union with the mandate to accept the offer. Should this fail, they said, the companies had put in place mechanisms for employees to accept the offer individually.

The impact of the strike is already apparent on the balance sheets of Amplat’s parent company Anglo American. It reported that production at Amplats had declined 39% for the first quarter of the year, prompting it to revise its full-year production guidance. Production at Rustenburg declined 84%, Amandelbult 75% and Union mines 86%.

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