The platinum sector’s second reckoning

2014-01-19 10:00

A new wave of strikes affecting most of the platinum industry is all but inevitable as Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) members this week voted for stoppages at Impala Platinum and Lonmin.

Its members at major gold mines in the country on Friday also voted to strike and members at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) were scheduled to cast a similar vote this morning because talks at all platinum companies have dragged on for months.

The union now faces a crucial test of its hold on the industry after formally displacing the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) as the majority union in the sector last year.

It spent most of last year fighting for formal recognition as the majority union at most platinum groups and has yet to prove its ability to win significant gains for members.

The NUM on Friday finally ended its 11-week-long strike at Northam Platinum, a smaller producer where it still dominates.

The settlement for core underground workers was 9.5%, setting an obvious benchmark for other mines.

The NUM also got Northam to spread a once-off R3?000 payment to workers over two years, making the effective pay hike R125 more a month.

Amcu’s bargaining posture, however, remains completely uncompromising and hinges on

the loaded demand for a R12?500 basic wage for underground workers.

The demand, which first emerged in early 2012 during wildcat strikes that saw the NUM crippled, excludes the living-out allowance, production bonuses and other benefits, which could add about R4?000 to an underground miner’s pay cheque.

Amcu treasurer Jimmy Gama admits that the R12?500 basic wage is a sizeable demand, but says it is meant to compensate for “low” increases won by the NUM in previous wage discussions.

The counteroffers on the table from the mining companies sit in the usual range of 7% to 8%.

The previous wage deals at platinum mines expired in September last year for Lonmin and in June for Impala and Amplats, meaning any settlement will involve significant backdated adjustments.

The platinum sector strikes would all be protected because Amcu has been sitting on certificates of non-resolution for all three platinum companies since before the Christmas break.


Amcu’s plan to strike for a better wage deal at gold mines will immediately see the union dragged to court and has the potential to start the year’s first major unprotected strike.

The country’s major gold mining companies reached a 8% wage deal with the NUM in September after a short strike.

Amcu’s gold membership is concentrated at AngloGold’s West Wits operations, Sibanye Gold’s Driefontein mine and Harmony Gold’s Kusasalethu mine.

For each of the companies, these operations represent their largest assets.

As soon as Amcu issues the strike notice, the affected mining companies will apply for court interdicts declaring the strikes unprotected.

If the mines successfully get the Amcu strike declared unprotected, they will be able to fire strikers.

A rough two years

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