/ 1 December 2017

Amcu workers too scared to strike

Amcu leader Joseph Mathunjwa has been accused by union employees of making unilateral decisions.
Amcu leader Joseph Mathunjwa has been accused by union employees of making unilateral decisions.

Staff at the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) have been in a prolonged battle with their employer over wages but are too afraid to strike, despite a certificate that allows them to do so.

The union that has fought for better wages for mineworkers — famous for its militant stance after the Marikana massacre — has itself been dragged to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for failing to meet its own workers’ demands.

In strike certificates issued by the CCMA, dated June 19, which the Mail & Guardian has seen, Amcu was mandated to meet and bargain with its employees: “Should the employer still refuse or fail to meet the union (employees representatives) to engage on the above subject, the union shall have the right to invoke the provisions of section 64 of the LRA [Labour Relations Act] (strike action).”

This was the second certificate issued to the employees in two months. But even with two certificates to strike, none of those the M&G spoke to would confirm when or if the strike would happen, saying instead that employees are afraid to go on strike after four workers who raised issues have been fired.

The union president, Joseph Mathunjwa, said that Amcu is dealing with internal and external disputes. “Our employees have rights and recourse in law as any other workers,” he said.

“This shows that Amcu can be subjected to relevant processes as an employer. Therefore last year there was an instance where some of our employees referred matters for dispute resolution to the CCMA. This was subsequently resolved as per CCMA procedures.”

The certificate to strike was preceded by numerous meetings between the employees, some of whom spoke to M&G on condition of anonymity, about the financial difficulties the union failed to address.

One worker said that the situation inside Amcu was unbearable and any kind of dissenting voice was silenced very quickly.

“Those who were part of taking the issues to the head office and ending up at the CCMA are either fired or have been intimidated. Everyone is afraid to be the next one out or dead,” said one source.

The issues raised with Amcu head office allegedly included how Mathunjwa took unilateral decisions about pay increases and bonuses.

A source close to the union said the increase on their salaries this year was about R400 and R200 for their housing allowance.

“For years, there has been no platform for the Amcu employees to raise their concerns. In December when people received a 13th cheque of R4 000 the workers decided they must do something about it,” said the source.

“In February there was a committee that was set up with seven people who were going to raise the issues of the workers.”

Mathunjwa said Amcu is a progressive organisation with a competitive benefit system and provides performance bonuses to its employees at the end of each year.

But, according to sources, by May, internal tensions were high and by the end of June three people from the task team had been fired.

The M&G understands that two of those fired then started a new union in Mpumalanga called the Liberation Union of South Africa.

Former Amcu regional organiser and chief negotiator in the coal sector, Dumisani Mahlomuza, confirmed that he was fired in June.

“We didn’t start a breakaway union because we were first employees of Amcu and we did not resign. I believe I was fired for raising certain issues [that the] leadership was not happy with, but the official reason I was terminated was that I did not have a vehicle any more,” said Mahlomuza.

He added that his vehicle had broken down as a result of the travelling he had done for union work. He said he did not want to comment on internal Amcu matters but confirmed that there was a strike certificate that had been issued by the CCMA.

The staffers said Mathunjwa was not being honest about resolving the matter.

“If there was a resolution, he must show you a copy of it. There has been no resolution and no discussions with the workers. Instead many are simply paralysed,” said the source.

These revelations come in the wake of five murders of Amcu members in North West and numerous graft allegations against the union’s leaders.