Sibanye-Stillwater has urged labour to reconsider their decision to strike at the mining company’s gold operations, stating that union members clearly do not support such action.
The statement follows a joint media release by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) announcing their decision to intensify strike action at Sibanye’s gold mines.
The strike, which relates to an impasse in wage negotiations between management and unions, entered its second month last week. The NUM and Amcu are demanding a wage increase of R1 000 a month for the mine’s lowest-paid workers. Sibanye is offering R700.
The NUM and Amcu noted that the mines have made a killing in the wake of the commodity boom. Last year Sibanye-Stillwater’s earnings rose to a record R36.9-billion, from R29.1-billion in 2020, when the last record was set. Revenue rose by 35% to more than R170-billion, driven by increased production in the mine’s platinum group metals (PGM) operations.
But the mine says the unions’ demands will threaten the sustainability of its operations by adding R2.5-billion to its wage bill.
“We will not be coerced into acceding to demands which are not inflation related, unaffordable and threaten the sustainability of our operations,” said Richard Cox, Sibanye’s executive vice-president of the company’s South African gold operations.
On Thursday, Sibanye said in a statement that although the company respects the rights of workers to strike, unions should reconsider their efforts “in the interests of striking employees who clearly do not support the strike”.
A lack of support for the strike is evidenced by the very low worker participation in protests at picketing sites and the constant resignation of members from the NUM and Amcu, Sibanye said.
Striking workers have lost about R790-million in wages, said Cox. The government, he added, has lost about R90-million in employee tax contributions “and significantly more in lost taxes and mining royalties”.
“Striking category 4 to 8 employees have already lost more than the cumulative value of the final increase offered by Sibanye-Stillwater over the first two years of the wage period, as well as the cumulative value of the R300 per month difference between the company’s offer and the unions’ demand over the full three-year period,” Sibanye’s statement noted.
“Should the strike continue until the end of April, striking employees would have lost all value they could have gained from a wage increase.”
In their statement announcing the escalated strike action, the NUM and Amcu accused Sibanye of being the “worst employer among workers”.
“As Amcu and NUM, we will not spare any cent to relieve the workers from the shackles of [Sibanye chief executive Neal] Froneman. We will not allow him to continue to exploit our people by using the minerals that belong to the people,” the unions said.
“He is not the government, and he is not the owner of the minerals.”
The unions also announced they would be giving notice of a secondary strike at Sibanye-Stillwater’s platinum operations, where wage talks are currently underway. This will include the Rustenburg and Marikana operations and will involve almost 35 000 workers downing tools, the unions said.
However, Sibanye said it has not yet received such a notice. “Wage negotiations at the Sibanye-Stillwater SA PGM operations have not started and are only scheduled to begin in June-July this year as per previous years.”