/ 15 February 2019

Fellow unions call out Amcu on strike tactics

Infighting: Three unions at Sibanye-Stillwater gold mine have accepted a wage offer
Infighting: Three unions at Sibanye-Stillwater gold mine have accepted a wage offer, but Amcu members are still holding out for a better deal. (Oupa Nkosi)

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) is at loggerheads with other trade unions about its protracted wage strike at gold mine Sibanye-Stillwater.

In July last year, Amcu, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Solidarity and the United Association of South Africa (Uasa) began annual wage negotiations.

This resulted in all the unions except Amcu accepting a R700-a-month increase in the first and second years and R825 in the third year for some categories of employees.

But Amcu is adamantly insisting on a R1 000 wage hike. The union has been picketing since November 14 and has been accused of violence and intimidation — allegations it denies.

“Amcu has the right to go on strike, but our concern is that they are doing that [while] intimidating our members,” said NUM spokesperson Luphert Chilwane.

“As a peaceful union, it is really uncalled for for workers to fight each other instead of fighting the real enemy, which is the employer.”

The mining house said that, since the strike began, seven people have died.

There have also been reports of workers being attacked and intimidated. In one incident a worker’s house was set alight, trapping the family inside.

Central to the dispute between Amcu and Sibanye are efforts to verify union membership numbers, which will determine the extent of Amcu’s muscle at the gold mine.

In December, the labour court ordered the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration to facilitate a union-member verification process to determine which union has a majority on the mine. Sibanye’s position is that, together the NUM, Uasa and Solidarity make up the majority, thereby allowing it to extend the wage deal to Amcu.

Two of the other unions said they believe Amcu is in the minority and that in recent months workers have left the union.

The sector manager for Uasa, Nico van Rooyen, said membership of Uasa, the NUM and Solidarity had increased to 68% since November, and Amcu “does not have the basis they believed they had”. This is “a clear indication that employees [have] voted in favour of the traditional unions”, he said.

Solidarity’s deputy general secretary, Riaan Visser, said it believed that, together with the NUM and Uasa, the three unions make up a majority.

In January, Amcu appealed what it called an “error” in the December labour court decision, saying it would have “severely limited the scope of the verification”. In a statement, Amcu accused Sibanye of a “devious strategy” to team up with it “main opposition”, the NUM, as well as Solidarity and Uasa, to extend the wage agreement.

Sibanye, meanwhile, has suffered several blows in its attempts to halt the industrial action but refuses to concede to Amcu’s demands.

Last week Friday, the labour court rejected its application to stop the strike until the verification is conducted.

“We are uncertain how long the verification process will be. We are willing and ready to proceed with the process, which was ordered by the court,” said Sibanye’s spokesperson, James Wellsted. He added that Amcu has “continued to delay the process”.

“We will continue to pursue various avenues, without compromising other stakeholders, to bring an end to the strike as soon as possible. We will not, however, negotiate an increase in the wage offer agreed with the other unions,” he said.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said the union was not backing down on its demands. “We haven’t received a revised mandate from our members.

“We don’t condone any form or shape of violence as it will not benefit our cause of economic emancipation and fighting inequality, which is deliberately perpetuated by these mine bosses.”

On Thursday, Sibanye-Stillwater said it would retrench more than 6000 jobs at after it had experienced financial losses in 2018.

Tshegofatso Mathe is an Adamela Trust journalist at the M&G