Peace: Stuck between a rock and Amcu

2013-02-24 10:01

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Assertive newcomer wants recognition before talks among unions

South Africa’s mines remain prone to more violent flare-ups as unions and companies scramble to give effect to a peace accord brokered by government this week – a process abandoned at the last minute by the newly dominant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

Attempts by Mining Minister Susan Shabangu to restore calm came after the precarious state of stability in the industry was demonstrated on Monday, when 15 workers were injured at the Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) mine, Siphumelele, in the North West in a confrontation between members of an Amcu-aligned worker committee and officials belonging to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

The peace accord – signed on Thursday by the Chamber of Mines, the departments of mineral resources and labour, as well as labour unions the NUM, Uasa, Solidarity and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa – seeks to create a framework for peaceful coexistence, where minority unions would continue to enjoy meaningful rights alongside those of a majority union.

It also includes commitments to collectively denounce violence, calls to respect the laws of the country, tolerance for different views, as well as the freedom of association and non-association.

The signatories have been given 14 days to put the necessary structures for these frameworks in place.

For now, however, the process could further delay the recognition of Amcu as the preferred union for the majority of workers at the biggest platinum producers around Rustenburg – the hotbed of last year’s wave of violent and unprotected strikes.

Audits done by Impala Platinum (Implats) and Lonmin – the country’s second- and third-biggest platinum producers, which collectively employ more than 50?000 people – have already indicated Amcu is the majority union representing more than 50% of the workforce, at the expense of the NUM.

Neither company has yet concluded a recognition agreement with Amcu, citing the need to first put new frameworks in place.

In the case of Amplats, however, the NUM continues to enjoy its majority-union privileges, which include the right to serve members from dedicated offices. The company has not released the results of its membership audit.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa told City Press on Friday the union has submitted debit order forms for more than 50% of Amplats workers.

The claim was backed up by a divisional manager of Uasa, Franz Stehring, who said his union was informed two weeks ago by Amplats’ forensic division that Amcu enjoyed the support of 60% of the group’s mining operators in the Rustenburg area.

Anglo American’s executive director for South Africa, Khanyisile Kweyama, told City Press on Thursday Amplats would reveal the numbers as soon as it was confident unions were committed to sitting around the same table.

Mathunjwa, however, said the companies were wasting time and fuelling more unrest.

“Amplats are ducking and diving; Implats are ducking and diving,” he said. “They’ve got the numbers, so why don’t they just recognise us?”

Mathunjwa said workers’ committees at Amplats were loyal to Amcu, but the union had no control over them as it was precluded from organising members at the organisation’s mines.

“We need shop stewards at the mine to address this issue,” he said. “No one can control a worker committee because it does not have a constitution or structure guiding it.”

Officials of both Implats and Lonmin have indicated, in recent weeks, that the formation of an inclusive union model was critical for labour stability at the companies, saying their models of excluding minorities were an underlying cause of the strikes and violence of 2012.

“You sit with the risk that in a year or two somebody else (another union) comes and you’ll go through the same upheaval to change the status quo,” Johan Theron, head of human resources at Implats, told journalists at the release of the company’s half-year results last week.

That view was echoed in an earlier interview with Lonmin’s acting CEO, Simon Scott.

“We want it to be all-inclusive so we don’t have a situation where a group of employees feel they need to go outside the bargaining arrangement in order to get the attention they feel they may deserve,” Scott said at the Mining Indaba earlier this month.

On Thursday, Shabangu said she would continue to try to convince Amcu to form part of the structured peace process.

“We need them,” she said. “It is in the interests of the country and the interests of the economy as a whole. They say they are a majority; we say they have to be confident and participate.”

Mathunjwa said the peace agreement was a rushed process in which the union wasn’t afforded enough time to consult with its members.

“What difference would another 24 hours have made?” Mathunjwa asked.

He said the union’s commitment to peace was demonstrated by the fact that it was the only party prepared to speak to and encourage workers to return for duty during a one-day stayaway following Monday’s shooting.

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