Only an “honourable settlement” can resolve the three-month-long strike in the platinum sector, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) said on Monday.
“We call on the platinum cabal to be patriotic. Only an honourable settlement can resolve the strike,” union leader Joseph Mathunjwa told reporters in Johannesburg.
“Our members have rejected the offer. The Amcu strike is protected. No one should put pressure on us … We appeal to progressive forces to put pressure on the employer to accept this demand,” he said.
“Our members in all the three mines resoundingly rejected the current employer offer and reiterated their original demand of R12 500 in four years.”
Amcu members at Lonmin, Impala Platinum and Anglo American Platinum operations in Rustenburg and North West, and at Northam in Limpopo downed tools on January 23 demanding a basic salary of R12 500 over a period of four years.
Cheap labour institutionalised
Flanked by shop stewards at the three mining companies, Mathunjwa said the amount being asked for was based on the escalating of cost of living and the “slave-structured” wage grades in the mining sector.
He said the current R4 500 wage in the mines was earned by Indian and white mine employees in 1987.
“There is no good story for mineworkers since the dawn of democracy.” It took African mineworkers 17 years to earn what their Indian and white counterparts earned.
“Our members have experienced inter-generational exploitation dating back to when these precious metals were first discovered in South Africa,” Mathunjwa said.
“The systems of labour control have institutionalised cheap labour and poor working conditions.
‘Unusually obscene salaries’
He said under the apartheid regime the lowest-paid employee in a company got about 40 times less than the highest-paid one.
“Today the difference between the lowest-paid workers and the cabal’s top management is on average 209 times. Over and above their unusually obscene salaries, top management get paid out in share options and share dividends that come to millions of rand[s],” Mathunjwa said.
“It is of paramount importance that we expose this capitalist greed which is prospering at the detriment of the workers, in order for the public to develop informed opinions on this dispute.”
He said companies were playing games in resolving the strike.
“The platinum cabal has been playing a game of smoke and mirrors underpinned by deceit, dishonesty, and bad faith,” Mathunjwa claimed.
“It has been extremely difficult to find a settlement with … employers who are bent on protecting the minority interests of the NUM [National Union of Mineworkers], Uasa [United Association of South Africa], and Chamber of Mines.”
He said the mining companies had money to meet the R12 500 demand.
“There is money. Is it just greed? The chief financial officer of Amplats indicated in the settlement engagements that his company had a budget of R1-billion per annum for wage increases.”
Mathunjwa said the negotiations revealed that employers, in particular Amplats, could afford Amcu’s demands.
He said to have serious talks it was important for employers to provide total wage costs for each company to explore options.
“Amplats managed to give us a benchmark, although this was not done in good faith. However Impala and Lonmin refused to provide us with total cost to company wage data which compromised further explorations for settlements.”
He said efforts by companies to speak directly to employees were desperate attempts to declare the strike unprotected.
The companies announced that they would take the offer directly to their employees after wage talks deadlocked.
Impala said two-thirds of its workforce contacted via SMS indicated that they wanted to return to work.
“I do not know where they base their statistic. I have never addressed an empty stadium. Wherever I go there are thousands of members,” said Mathunjwa.
He threatened to call a mass protest should any of the companies retrench workers based on the strike settlement. “We will use our muscle. No mine will function.”
The strike, now in its 102nd day, has cost the companies over R16-billion in revenue and workers have lost R7.29-billion in earnings. – Sapa