AMCU firm on Sibanye strike, warns of fresh strike in platinum sector

The Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union (AMCU) is pressing ahead with a protected wage strike at Sibanye-Stillwater's gold operations from Wednesday night, after the company stuck to its offer in the 48-hour notice period.

At a press conference on Wednesday morning, AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa accused Sibanye-Stillwater of paying large salaries to executives, including CEO Neal Froneman, while "not sharing the wealth" with workers.

The union is demanding R1 000 annual increases for the next three years, while the three other unions at the company, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Solidarity and UASA, accepted R700 in the first two years, and R825 in the third for most workers.

Mathunjwa promised to embark on a secondary strike in the platinum sector, at a yet-to-be-determined date, and any companies that have a "footprint" with Sibanye will be affected. "This is not a threat," Mathunjwa said.

Sibanye-Stillwater has large platinum operations under its control, having bought Anglo-American Platinum's Rustenburg operations in 2016 while the planned acquisition of Lonmin is awaiting regulatory approval.

AMCU embarked on a five-month protracted strike in the platinum sector in 2014, in a demand for R12 500 monthly wages for miners. Labour relations since then have been fairly stable on the volatile Platinum Belt.

Black Christmas for workers

"Does exploitation stop at Christmas?" Mathunjwa asked, adding that the no-work-no pay principle is a sacrifice workers are willing to make during the festive period, to ensure they earn a living wage.

According to the company’s data, AMCU represents 43% of Sibanye’s 32 200 employees in the gold operations, and no union is a majority representative. Mathunjwa said the number of employees staying away from work will show that the organisation is in fact the majority union.

Mathunjwa said AMCU was willing to meet Sibanye management to reach an agreement while the strike was ongoing, but company spokesperson James Wellstead maintains the agreement signed by three other unions is what the company can afford, without damaging its long term sustainability.

Wellstead added that any decisions to close shafts or operations during the industrial action would depend on how many employees were affected and whether there was any intimidation of workers reporting for duty.

Sibanye has faced a number of headwinds this year, with third quarter production figures disappointing the market amid more than 20 fatalities in the first half of the year, which resulted in frequent work stoppages.

The company is also awaiting a decision by the Competition Tribunal for the merger with Lonmin, which AMCU has opposed, as more than 10 000 jobs will be cut.

Wellstead said they expect a decision by the Competition Tribunal "fairly soon", adding that AMCU’s threat of a secondary strike in the platinum sector would need to be given the necessary permission by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), or workers could face disciplinary action.

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