Inside the real Lonmin deal

2013-09-15 14:00

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Right after signing it, Lonmin removed key clauses to favour Amcu at the expense of minority unions

Platinum miner Lonmin and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) changed their recognition agreement shortly after publicly, and “accidentally”, signing an “incorrect” version to mark the anniversary of the Marikana massacre last month.

After publicly announcing the deal, the agreement was quickly changed: three new pages were inserted to replace key clauses relating to minority unions Solidarity and Uasa.

Despite derecognising minority unions in terms of the agreement, it took the company two weeks to provide a copy of the final version to Solidarity, City Press has learnt.

The embarrassing mistake demonstrates that the deal was likely to have been rushed to completion after serious haggling over its most fundamental aspects.

Proposals put forward by Lonmin and included in the first signed version are at odds with the actual final agreement – which is a complete victory for Amcu after its yearlong recognition battle.

This matter has ballooned into a public relations disaster for Lonmin after the original “incorrect” version – signed by Lonmin’s chief executive Ben Magara and HR manager Abey Kgotle, as well as Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa and the union’s treasurer, Jimmy Gama – was leaked to minority union Solidarity, which then leaked it to the media. In particular, a bizarre “escape clause” caught their eye (see sidebar).

Solidarity’s general secretary, Gideon du Plessis, claims the incorrect agreement was given to them by a Lonmin manager who told them that the “backdoor is wide open”, in reference to the escape clause.

Until given the corrected version two weeks after the fact, Solidarity suspected Lonmin was lying about the existence of a corrected second version.

The copy in City Press’ possession existed since at least August 22. In City Press’ copy of the real agreement, it is clear three pages were inserted afterwards and were signed by all of the original signatories.

What got cut:

The escape clause – clause 5.16.6 – allowed Lonmin to in effect tear up the agreement if the other unions held, or even planned, a strike that “will severely hinder the operations?...?or there is a reasonable apprehension of harm to the business”.

Amcu, and later a source at Lonmin, said this clause was a “mix-up” and wasn’t supposed to be in the signed agreement.

It turns out there were other “mix-ups” as well, all relating to softening the blow for the other unions.

Clause 5.16.5 read that Lonmin could recognise other trade unions at a “particular operating unit” – a scheme that divided the operations into four parts and in effect created a much lower threshold for unions to retain their presence.

Solidarity would, for instance, have been able to get recognised at the company’s process division if it had 30% of its workers as members – a much more realistic target than 30% of all 28?000 Lonmin employees. This clause has also disappeared.

Clause created a transitional scheme making Solidarity and Uasa part of the wage talks scheduled to begin this week.

That’s gone too. The original agreement also gave Lonmin a safety net regarding the wage talks this year.

It stipulated that the old wage agreement remains in force until a new one is reached.

This would have been very valuable for the company as the recent trend has been to sign retrospective wage agreements that apply from the day the old agreement lapsed owing to protracted talks or strikes.

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