In a bid to end South Africa’s longest strike, platinum mines and labour have moved closer to one another in terms of wages.
But a new set of conditions, which controversially include dropping criminal charges, now stands in the way. And waiting in the wings is a court application that is said to contain damning information about violence and intimidation during the strike.
The “in-principle” agreement announced by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) last week appears to be in jeopardy with the introduction of new demands that, although they vary for each mine, employers say are unaffordable and are expected to add up to R1-billion in additional costs.
In some cases, they are seemingly impossible. For example, among the conditions presented to Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) and Impala Platinum (Implats) is a demand that they withdraw criminal charges laid against union members implicated for violence during the strike – although the union denies this.
An unknown number of people face criminal charges in connection with acts of violence ranging from setting fire to houses to murder.
“Quite a number of people who are implicated in killing our [five] members are in jail,” the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) spokesperson, Livhumani Mammburu, said. “Some are awaiting trial while for others their court cases have started.”
Another problematic condition is that all the mines agree not to retrench workers during the period of the wage agreement.
But Lonmin might have an ace up its sleeve – a court application to declare the strike dysfunctional. Its contents are said to include damning information.
The company is keeping the application tightly under wraps and the union flatly denies having any knowledge of it. But the Mail & Guardian has been able to confirm with five separate sources in the industry that the application, drafted on behalf of Lonmin, exists.
Legal experts say the chances of such a case succeeding are slim (See Lonmin on thin ice with ‘dysfunctional’ bid) but, if successful, the strike would become unprotected and employers would be able to dismiss striking workers.
Dossier of damning information
According to the minority trade union Solidarity general secretary, Gideon du Plessis, “some of the employers in the platinum industry are believed to have compiled a dossier of damning information regarding incidents of serious violence and intimidation, with a view to bringing a court application to have the strike declared dysfunctional”.
He said the application was on hold and “appears to have been a scare tactic that was used to get Amcu to reach an agreement”. But the Amcu treasurer, Jimmy Gama, said: “We are not aware of any court application. What we are aware [of is that] we are still busy engaging with these employers to resolve the strike.”
Lonmin said it could not comment on the application.
Solidarity has appealed to the employers not to “sweep the information they have gathered under the carpet”. “Amcu took the bait – that’s the deal. Lonmin will not divulge the content of that application any more,” an industry source said.
Another employer expressed his disappointment that Lonmin was using the evidence seemingly to push for a settlement instead of using it to expose Amcu.
Another source with knowledge of the application said the contents of the dossier could be “damning for [Amcu president Joseph]Mathunjwa” but would not necessarily put pressure on the union structures closer to the ground.
Du Plessis said Amcu’s latest demands relating to criminal charges as well as company disciplinary processes border on defeating the ends of justice. “It therefore seems that Amcu condones criminal and other serious offences that may have been committed by its members.”
Gama denied that the union had imposed conditions related to the dropping of criminal charges. “We have not spoken about criminal charges; it’s not a condition,” he said.
He refused to release the union’s written conditions to the media while the union was engaged with the employers.
A screenshot of the union’s response to the mines’ latest offer provided by Implats listed this condition, among others: “The employer shall withdraw all criminal charges against our members arising from the strike and no further disciplinary action shall be taken against such person.”
Amplats referred the M&G to the police for details about arrests and criminal charges. The South African Police Service was unable to provide the requested information at the time of going to print.
Johan Theron, the spokesperson of Implats, said the company had not experienced many acts of violence during the strike because the mine had been closed for much of the time.
‘Some have been arrested’
“However, I can confirm that some Amcu members have been arrested by the police for criminal acts that include copper theft and assault, among others. We clearly have no influence over these matters being administrated by the security cluster.
“If found guilty through these processes, we also have internal disciplinary recourse – that is, if someone is found guilty of copper theft, the trust relationship will be irreparably damaged and internal processes will unfold.”
In a media release on June 19, the NUM called for all those implicated in the killing of workers and the destruction of property belonging to workers to be arrested and prosecuted.
“We call on the government to protect all workers who are not on strike and wish to exercise their right to go to work. The time has come for the wheels of justice to roll over those who continue to prey on innocent workers,” the union said.
A moratorium on retrenchments is also one of the conditions and it has been confirmed by the industry. But Gama denied there was anything related to restructuring in the new and additional conditions.
Lonmin said problematic conditions include a R3 000 once-off back-to-work payment and back pay for the full period of the strike.
Gama said the conditions were in fact “not difficult” and pertained to things such as reducing the agreement period to three years from five and to reinstate workers who were dismissed during the work stoppage. “We want to have a situation where workers return to work and that there are not unresolved issues. We want to go back there peacefully.”