The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) has accused Sibanye-Stillwater of working behind the scenes to ensure its demise as the biggest union in the platinum sector.
Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa told City Press the company, one of the world’s biggest platinum producers after buying Lonmin’s operations in the North West, was fuelling tension and encouraging union members to join other labour groups.
“The company is telling our members to join Solidarity, NUM [National Union of Mineworkers] or Uasa and when we [Amcu] go on strike, the company will pay them for staying at home and in return Amcu will not have the numbers to push the strike.
“They gave them an ultimatum that, if they want to be paid while not working, they would have to join the other unions.
“Neal Froneman [Sibanye’s CEO] wants to do the same thing he did in the gold sector by bringing the other unions to the table via the back door.
“The company is already recognising the other unions unduly and has meetings with them to strategise about what must happen if we go on strike,” Mathunjwa said.
He said the company had lobbied chiefs to speak up against Amcu’s wage demands and instil fear in the workers that if they supported the union, there would be mass retrenchments.
“They lobbied chiefs to vilify us and speak out against our demands and this is what Lonmin did in 2012. They are undermining employment equity now and bringing white workers from their other operations to come take up senior positions in the Lonmin operations instead of promoting black people who are already there,” he said.
Sibanye spokesperson James Wellsted dismissed Amcu’s claims that the company was actively poaching Amcu members.
“That is a ludicrous accusation. We respect the rights of all employees to belong to any union they wish to or not join a union. We have always engaged with recognised unions and employees,” he said, adding that the company treated all stakeholders equally.
Wellsted said the minority unions at the Lonmin operations had already formed a coalition to challenge the agency shop agreement between Lonmin management and Amcu and had won. Amcu, however, has lodged an appeal.
“The coalition has further been granted certain organisational rights by the CCMA [Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration], which must be respected by the parties. We are aware that Amcu has tried to set this award aside through taking the matter on review. Their attempt was unsuccessful. Amcu has lodged an appeal, but this appeal does not suspend the operation of the arbitration award,” Wellsted said.
He pointed out that the company had engaged with traditional leaders on a number of issues but not to lobby their support against Amcu.
“It is our right as management to engage with all stakeholders and employees and, while this may not please Amcu, this is our normal way of doing business. Amcu represents employees who join the union, they do not represent the company during stakeholder engagement as they may have thought they did in the past,” he said.
In response to the alleged discrimination about promoting employees, Wellsted dismissed it. “Sibanye-Stillwater does not discriminate and has a very clear employment equity policy. The reality, though, is that the integration process is a complex one and we have taken over operations [Marikana] which have been underperforming for some time.
“As such, we need a team that has experience in integrating operations and turning around underperforming assets, as we did at Kroondal and Rustenburg and the team we have put in place is experienced at integration and has a successful track record of turning around and restoring loss-making operations to profitability. The team contains both black and white management,” he said.
Amcu and the company have a history of tension and most recently deadlocked in the gold sector resulting in a bruising five-month strike.
Meanwhile, Amcu has declared a dispute with the CCMA against Sibanye and Angloplat and is set to do the same with Impala Platinum after wage talks with all three companies deadlocked.
Amcu demanded a R1 500 wage hike for employees for each year of the three-year wage deal.
Sibanye offered R400, R600 and R800 for each of the three years at its Marikana operations and R700, R750 and R800 in its Rustenburg operations. Angloplat offered R1 000, R850 and R800 in the last year while Impala offered R1 050 in each of the three years.
However, Mathunjwa said the importance of the R1 500 was that the companies could easily retrench workers a few months after agreeing to a smaller wage increase.