Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma
has accused Amcu of irresponsibility
for dragging out a wage strike in the platinum sector for almost four months,
telling reporters there was a risk of workers losing their jobs because of the
Zuma, who has made almost no previous direct comment
about the strike, took aim at the Association of Mineworkers and Construction
Union (Amcu) on Monday, underscoring political concerns about the stoppage and
its impact on Africa's most advanced economy, ahead of general elections on
"The union leaders have a responsibility... to
ensure workers are protected so they don't lose their jobs. You can't get into
a strike that at the end the workers lose their jobs. That's your
responsibility," Zuma told a news conference.
Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa lashed out at the
"platinum cabal" and its "exploitation of workers”.
Mathunjwa told a news conference the 15-week strike, the
longest and most costly ever, would continue and no new wage talks were
The strike at the world's top producers of the precious
metal - Anglo American Platinum, Lonmin and Impala Platinum - has hit 40% of
The prospect of a painful restructuring in the platinum
sector, including steep job cuts, has made the strike a headache for the ANC
and President Zuma as he vies for a second term in office.
Jobs are a sensitive issue in South Africa, where the
unemployment rate rose to 25.2% of the labour force, or 5.07 million people, in
the first quarter of 2014 from 24.1% in the previous three months, official
data showed on Monday.
"The very fact that you can introduce a kind of
threshold that you are not prepared to move on, it says there's something wrong
with Amcu," Zuma said.
Amcu is high on the ANC radar screen after it emerged as
the top union in the platinum belt in 2012, having poached tens of thousands of
members from National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
The companies are offering increases of up to 10% and
other benefits that they say would raise the overall minimum pay package to R12
500 a month by July 2017.
Amcu had initially demanded an immediate increase to R12 500,
but softened that stance in March to staggered increases that would amount to R12
500 within three or four years.
Wage talks collapsed over a week ago and the producers
are taking their offer directly to employees, via cell phone text messages,
radio ads and public meetings in their home villages far from the shafts where
many have returned.
Implats said on Friday two thirds of its striking miners
had indicated by texts and phone calls that they wanted to accept the latest
offer and return to work.
Mathunjwa said this was not true and most of the union's
rank and file still supported the strike. "These underhand tactics have
been a catastrophic failure and exposed the desperate attempts by this cabal to
divide the workers," he said.
Mathunjwa also slammed the companies for claiming that,
in the face of rising costs and depressed platinum prices, they cannot afford
to raise their latest offer for work that is tough and often dangerous.
"They say our members are unreasonable with
unaffordable demands. However, we are baffled about what is unreasonable from
asking for a living wage under extremely dangerous and back breaking
work?," he said.
Amcu says its wage demands could be met if overtime for
management and senior workers was scaled back.
Mathunjwa has tapped a vein of resentment among black
miners who feel they are still not reaping a fair benefit from the country's
mineral riches 20 years after the end of apartheid.
But the companies say they were bleeding cash even before
the strike. Underscoring the industry's woes is the muted reaction of the
platinum price to the strike.
Spot platinum is fetching around $1 446 an ounce, little
changed from its levels on the eve of the stoppage.Download the app by visiting one of these app stores.
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