/ 25 June 2014

Miners return to work and food parcels

Lonmin chief executive Ben Magara announces the end of the longest strike in South Africa's history.
Lonmin chief executive Ben Magara announces the end of the longest strike in South Africa's history.

Mineworkers at Lonmin, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) and Impala Platinum began returning to work on Wednesday following the resolution of the five-month strike in the mining sector.

The mining firms signed agreements with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) on Tuesday, bringing the strike to an end

Amplats was beginning its “safe return to work” programme, involving health and safety protocol and refresher training, said Amplats spokesperson Mpumi Sithole.

Returning workers received food parcels to help ease the deprivation suffered during the lengthy strike, Amplats said on Wednesday. “We have started with provision of food parcels from the company, health supplements and transport relief,” said Sithole. 

She could not yet give precise figures of how many people had returned to work at Amplats. “We appreciate it’s not going to be something that happens overnight. We don’t have the statistics, but they are coming back in their numbers.

The company will help its workers manage their debt, and provide personal financial training and legal aid for those in need.

Lonmin spokesperson Sue Vey said returning workers would have to undergo medicals and retraining before they could resume their jobs.

“We also check all work areas, to ensure they are safe. But we have been doing that throughout the strike … We will be ready in a couple of weeks,” she said.

Vey could not immediately give an indication of how many people had returned to work at Lonmin, but said this information would be available later in the day.

Implats could not immediately be reached for comment.

Wage deal
The three platinum producers and Amcu signed the three-year wage deals at Lonmin’s offices in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg. 

In terms of the agreements, which differed marginally according to the companies’ respective circumstances, employees were to return to work on Wednesday. 

Spokesperson for the producers Charmane Russell said on Tuesday afternoon that mining operations would resume fully in the coming weeks. 

The wage agreements were effective from July 1 last year for Amplats and Implats and from October 1 2013 for Lonmin. The agreements are valid until June 30 2016.

Under the deals, employees are to receive back pay from the effective agreement dates until January 22, the day before the strike started. This would be made available within a week of returning to work. The principle of no work, no pay was applicable during the strike.

“We understand people have been out of work for a while. The company has undertaken that people will receive their back pay within a week,” said Sithole.

Lost income
The strike, which began on January 23, has cost the companies lost revenue of more than R24-billion, while workers lost earnings of around R10.7-billion.

website set up by the producers to communicate during the strike has kept a running total of these figures. It had not stopped increasing these numbers by Wednesday morning, despite the strike having officially ended.

Amcu had wanted a monthly basic salary of R12 500, which the producers maintained was unaffordable. Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said on Tuesday that in terms of the agreement, entry-level workers would receive increases of up to 18%. 

“No worker in the platinum sector will  earn less than R8 000 as a basic salary, which is a breakthrough … Amcu is committed to make sure R12 500 minimum wage is reached by 2017,” he said.

Sigh of relief
Political parties, trade unions, business organisations and President Jacob Zuma were among those who welcomed the end of the strike.

Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town congratulated Amcu and the platinum companies on Wednesday for having resolved the strike.

“The union and its members can feel satisfied they have achieved real gains – for now and the future – on the best terms available. The managements can feel that a more equitable deal for their workers will help to secure labour peace in the future.”

He said negotiations had triumphed despite the “tough and drawn out” strike and talks to resolve it. “Although democracy is messy and complex, it creates a more secure atmosphere for harmony and collaboration in the longer term.” – Sapa