Q&A: Amcu’s Joseph Mathunjwa

2013-01-19 15:15

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) claims to represent more than 26 000 employees of Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), around 50% of the workforce at the company where it had no foothold when the nationwide mining strikes took off last year.

It points towards the continued growth of Amcu which is not only set to become the dominant union in the platinum industry, but has also made major inroads at gold mines over the past three months having gained a foothold at companies such as Harmony Gold, AngloGold Ashanti and Village Main Reef.

André Janse van Vuuren spoke to Amcu president, Joseph Mathunjwa, about the possible retrenchment of 14 000 and 5 200 workers at Amplats and Harmony Gold respectively, the growth of the union and its rivalry with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

The members of both Amcu and the NUM face the same threat of possible retrenchments. Are you amenable to work with any party, including the NUM, towards a common goal, which in this instance is the preservation of jobs?

If you look at the track record of Amcu, you’ll see it never had any issue to work with any registered entity within the industry. The objective is not to defeat another union, the objective is to defeat this monster, which is capitalism.

Amplats says the Rustenburg shafts it proposes to close are all making losses. Do you view this as a valid reason for the resulting retrenchments?

Amplats has not yet put all the facts on the table. They’re just feeding us with these positions; we haven’t seen any proof. We would like them to engage with us about these issues, but they haven’t. An employer and union should be transparent with one another before going to workers and raising emotions about job losses.

You’ve asked workers to return to their jobs after some went on strike in reaction to Amplats’ announcement. How do you see the conduct and reaction of workers going forward?

Yes, we had a mass meeting with workers. We’ve told them there is now a process that is official and on the record. We’ve told them to work within the ambit of the law and not create an opportunity for the employer to justify its decisions. A strike should really be the last option under the circumstances.

Harmony Gold says it wants to mine at Kusasalethu, where it has started a Section 189 process, but there is too much violence at the mine to continue mining safely. Do you agree with that?

It might be so, but there are also other issues on which the management has not come clean. As an example, it has not implemented the wage agreement (to end the national strike) that was agreed to by the Chamber of Mines at the end of last year. One shouldn’t look at the violence in isolation.

Are you optimistic that Amcu and Harmony’s management will be able to find common ground and get the operations to start again?

I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to reach an agreement. We’ve got no demands; this (the situation to suspend operations) was a decision taken unilaterally by the management. The workers reported for work (at the beginning of the year) only to find the gates of the mine closed. The workers’ intention is to work.

There are many instances at individual mines where you claim to represent a majority of workers, yet you haven’t been recognised because the mines are still verifying these claims. Do you find the process to be moving quickly enough?

In some instances you become very suspicious because the Labour Relations Act says your stop orders should be processed within 30 days of presenting it. This is the way the other unions were handled. Now, when you present your stop orders you’re given some additional obstacles or conditions.

I think it is because of the long-standing relationship between the mines and other unions, and how they perceive Amcu and how Amcu has been labelled in the media. When they do meet us they realise we’re not the way they thought we would be.

The whole mining industry is going through a tough period and more jobs could be lost. What needs to be done to minimise the effect on workers?

The big issue here is not about shaft closures that you are seeing now; it is whether people are benefiting from the mineral wealth of the country.

We wrote to President Jacob Zuma last year to call for a national mining indaba. We need to discuss to what extent people have benefited from black economic empowerment and ask whether that is the model we want.

Let’s tackle this monster (of how people are benefiting from the country’s mineral wealth) once and for all before it’s too late; we’re already in extra time as far as that is concerned.

Let’s face the facts and start thinking about a new model for mining; if this generation does not see the benefits then perhaps our children will.

Let’s start thinking about the future of our children.

» See City Press on Sunday for full coverage of this week’s developments in the mining sector

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