Harmony unrest caused by union rivalry

2013-01-23 17:57
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Johannesburg - Union rivalry lay behind an urgent application by Amcu members to gain access to Harmony Gold's Kusasalethu mine hostel, the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg heard on Wednesday.

Frans Barrie SC, for Harmony Gold, said the miners were given adequate notice of the mine's temporary closure and told not to return.

"This [the application] is nothing other than an Amcu [Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union] membership drive... Part of the rivalry between Amcu and the National Union of Mineworkers [NUM]," Barrie said.

"The application should not be heard as a matter of urgency. It has received much publicity and the circumstances of that have very serious implications."

He told the court about violence at the mine after mass meetings organised by the Amcu between October and December 2012.

On 21 November, miners stormed the hostel after an Amcu meeting at the stadium on hostel premises, causing R1.1m in damage.

The court heard 37 miners were staying at the hostel because they were part of essential services and helping to maintain the mine.

Barrie argued that if the 50 miners were granted access to the mine, the safety and health of the other miners would be at risk.

"The risk exists that they will be interfered with and that has a direct effect on the health and safety at the mine."

Judge Ndawoyakhe Tshabalala said his main concern over granting access was safety.

Earlier, Tshabalala said if the 50 miners were allowed into the hostel, the remaining 4 000 miners employed at the mine might also want access, which could lead to chaos.

Ivan Miltz SC, for the miners, said it was unlikely there would be any trouble.

He submitted that the 50 miners had not been told about the temporary closure of the mine before going on leave.

"There will be no chaos or a mass return of the others... but the 50 have been sleeping on the ground outside the gate, in tents and at the church," he told the court.

Mine shut down

On 3 January, miners were told that the mine had been shut down until further notice, in order to review operations after several illegal strikes.

Miners were locked out of the hostel and many slept outside the gates.

In December, 1 700 workers at the Kusasalethu mine staged a sit-in demanding that their fellow employees, who had been suspended, be reinstated.

Tshabalala asked why the miners were still at the hostel even though the mine had been temporarily closed. Miltz said this was where some of them lived.

One miner had been there since 1980, and their belongings, like pots, blankets and toiletries, were still there.

After hearing about the violence at the mine, which resulted in the death of two miners and a security guard, Tshabalala questioned the violent behaviour of miners.

"The concern is that if employees do that at work, wouldn't that be taken out of the work environment?" he asked.

Miltz said the application dealt with only 50 employees, not the other 4 000 employees.

"We shouldn't let the present application be coloured by that," he said.

The court heard that most of the 50 workers were members of Amcu and that the union supported the application.

Dozens of miners, dressed in green Amcu T-shirts, were in court. Before proceedings started, they protested outside the building.

Barrie rejected Miltz's argument that the 50 miners had not been aware of the mine's closure.

He argued that various methods were used to inform the workers and their unions.

The application continues.

- SAPA
Read more on:    amcu  |  num  |  johannesburg
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