The Chamber of Mines’ labour court application to stop an Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) strike in the gold mines could have far-reaching ramifications for the union’s future in that sector. The case largely revolves around the nature of the informal bargaining forum that the major gold mines established with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and minority unions Solidarity and United Association of SA (Uasa) in the 1990s. Should Amcu prevail, that forum would effectively be destroyed, undermining the NUM in its remaining stronghold. Judge Hamilton Cele reserved his order until Thursday. The chamber argues that the wage deal between AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony and Sibanye Gold on one side, and NUM, Solidarity and Uasa on the other, also binds Amcu members on their mines. That includes a “peace clause” in the deal that prohibits any wage strikes until the agreement expires. Amcu members make up the majority at a number of individual mines owned by the three companies, but the NUM is still the majority union at all three. The legal battle revolves around the idea that the “workplace” consists of all the mines owned by a company as opposed to individual mines. “The rationale for defining workplace this way is to stop workers from striking,” said Amcu’s Paul Kennedy. Amcu’s argument is that the individual mine is the real workplace because unions are given recognition agreements on the basis of their mine-level membership. According to Amcu, the forum is a sneaky way to create a sectoral bargaining council without all the checks and balances that go with formally registering one. But according to the chamber’s Advocate Anton Myburgh, “chaos will reign” if Amcu wins and “it would turn labour law on its head” by having a minority union dictate to the majority. At the end of Thursday’s day-long court hearing, Cele raised the key question: What happens if Amcu gets to strike and forces the mines into a new wage deal that is better than the one all the other unions signed last year? According to Kennedy, it will have to “supersede” the old deal, making further strikes at non-Amcu mines very likely. The forum works according to a gentleman’s agreement between the NUM and Solidarity and Uasa, which allows them to bargain for their constituencies by the grace of the NUM. On the basis of the chamber’s arguments this week, the NUM could basically make any agreement with the mines, no matter what the other unions say. Amcu is expected to fall in with this arrangement until the NUM loses its majority.