What does R12 500 really mean?

2014-01-26 14:00

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The negotiations to end the strike by the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu) in the platinum sector on Friday kicked off with high-level discussions around what is meant by R12?500.

These involved two Cabinet ministers and the CEOs of all three platinum companies affected by the strike that kicked off on Thursday morning.

Real negotiations without ministers or CEOs will only resume tomorrow, with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration putting aside three days to facilitate.

The question being raised by the platinum mines on Friday was whether the central demand of mine workers since 2012, a R12?500 basic wage, necessarily excludes other elements of remuneration.

Before negotiations began, Susan Shabangu, minister of mineral ­resources, and Mildred Oliphant, minister of labour, first met with ­Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa and his delegation of about 40 ­shopstewards.

The ministers then met the CEOs of the three platinum groups: Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Impala Platinum and Lonmin.

Only by 2.30pm did the mine bosses meet Amcu, where the composition of the R12?500 demand was briefly on the agenda.

Jimmy Gama, Amcu’s treasurer, had earlier unequivocally told City Press that the demand for R12?500 refers to the basic wage for underground workers – in effect a doubling of the current wage.

Apart from that, Amcu has gone ­into the strike demanding a R6?000 living-out allowance – a tripling of the current level.?The demand has been decried as hopelessly unrealistic by the platinum industry.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the CEOs of the three platinum companies hit out at Amcu for allegedly misleading its members.

“It is of great concern to the platinum companies that employees are being made promises by Amcu that cannot be delivered upon,” they said.

Amcu, and particularly its president, has been under attack this week in what Mathunjwa calls a “smear campaign”.

On Monday, the Workers & Socialist Party (Wasp), which had been supportive of Amcu in Rustenburg, held a press conference with a group of former Amcu officials, lambasting Mathunjwa as “undemocratic”.

The five officials, who were all part of the workers’ committees that led the wildcat strikes in 2012 before workers joined Amcu en masse, claimed that they are the “key leaders” of Amcu at various platinum mines.

Mathunjwa says all of them had been expelled or dismissed last year by their branches or companies.

They claimed that Amcu has practically no organisation in the platinum belt and that all decisions are in effect made by Mathunjwa.

Wasp seems upset that Amcu has no ambition to become part of a broader left alliance led by the ­National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa).

Numsa has roughly 1?000 members at Anglo Platinum’s processing ­division and, like Amcu, is in a wage deadlock with the company.

According to Numsa sector coordinator Stephen Nhlapo, the union “wanted to go at the same time as Amcu”, but the joint strike was ­hindered by “operational issues” ­between the unions.

By Tuesday, Numsa will decide whether it too is calling out a strike, which would then start, at the earliest, on Thursday.

If Amcu’s strike paralyses underground production long enough, however, the smelters will run out of material to process – allowing Numsa members a chance to in effect strike without losing wages.

If Amcu settles, however, Numsa could still in effect halt production by closing the processing division.

“Then the company will have ­another problem,” said Nhlapo.

Although mostly still peaceful by Friday afternoon, there have been ­reports of sporadic intimidation of non-strikers.

Minority union United Association of SA (Uasa) claims that practically none of its members are being ­allowed to reach their workplaces. The union now plans to have them withdraw their labour on a paid basis, using a right to withdraw from unsafe work environments enshrined in the Mine Health and Safety Act.

The rule generally refers to safety hazards underground, but ­Uasa ­believes it should also shield non-strikers.

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