Amcu signs settlement agreement despite outsider speculation

Platinum producers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) have signed a settlement agreement, Lonmin spokesperson Charmane Russell told reporters on Tuesday outside the company’s offices in Melrose Arch, north of Johannesburg. 

Mineworkers were expected to return to work on Wednesday after being on strike since January 23.

Reporters were waiting for Lonmin chief executive Ben Magara to address them. 

The resolution of the five-month strike in the platinum mining sector was welcomed on Tuesday, but there were concerns its effects would not disappear soon.

“The South African economy can now breathe easier at the resolution, but an enormous challenge remains in making up for the lost production and economic activity,” said South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) chief executive Neren Rau. 

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) announced on Monday that the protracted platinum sector strike was officially over. The union was expected to sign wage agreements with the platinum producers later on Tuesday. 

Trade union Solidarity said there would be a “difficult road to recovery”. General secretary Gideon du Plessis said the strike was the longest, most expensive and most destructive in South Africa’s mining history. 

Hanging in the balance
The future of several shafts on the mines affected by the strike hung in the balance and large-scale layoffs were likely to take place. “Moreover, the mining sector’s sustainability was harmed, local economies were destroyed, investors were deterred and South Africa’s image probably suffered irreparable damage,” said Du Plessis. 

It would take the workers who had been on strike several years to make up their losses as the no-work, no-pay principle had applied. By Tuesday, the strike had cost the industry R24-billion in lost revenue, while employees had forfeited earnings of around R10.6-billion, according to a website set up by the companies. Amcu members at Lonmin, Impala Platinum and Anglo American Platinum downed tools in January, demanding a monthly basic salary of R12 500. 

After five months of negotiations, Amcu announced on Monday that the platinum strike was officially over and that it would sign wage agreements with the platinum producers. The union accepted wage settlements that increase the basic salary of the lowest-paid worker by R1 000 over three years, excluding other benefits, union leader Joseph Mathunjwa told about 20 000 members at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace in Phokeng, near Rustenburg. Some workers would receive R12 500 before the end of the agreement, he said. 

Workers would receive back pay within seven days of returning to their jobs on Wednesday. When Mathunjwa asked members if the union should accept the offer, they chanted “yes, yes”, pointing their fingers upwards. 

Mathunjwa said the agreements, which he hailed as a milestone in the history of mineworkers, would run for three years. Rau said South Africa’s industrial relations framework needed to be reviewed in light of the damage the platinum strike had caused the economy. 

“Sacci remains convinced that the extent of damage wrought upon communities and economic growth and the established attendant criminality seriously brings into question whether open-ended industrial action remains appropriate in the current economy.” 

Review of labour legislation
Sacci and Solidarity called for labour legislation to be reviewed to make provision for confidential strike ballots by trade union members. Du Plessis criticised Amcu’s handling of the strike.

“Because of its poor negotiating skills and ideological framework, the union brought harm to its members and caused the impoverishment of thousands of non-striking workers and their dependants, as the right to strike was elevated above the right to work.” 

North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo on Tuesday welcomed the end of the strike, saying it would “pave the way for peace and stability to be restored and for mining operations to return to full productivity”. 

Mahumapelo said the resolution of the strike averted what could have become a “human catastrophe”, even though the economy had already suffered. “[We] pledge our support for the healing process that needs to unfold in the aftermath of the violence and losses suffered during the protracted strike,” he said. – Sapa

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