This week’s short-lived sit-in by about 1 700 employees of Harmony Gold’s Kusasalethu mine in Carletonville, western Johannesburg, has tested the gold mining company’s relationship with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).
Workers refused to resurface at the end of their shift on Wednesday, but broke their strike in the early hours of Friday over the apparent withholding of a promised R3 000 bonus.
According to the company’s press releases, “formal demands” were received on Thursday, which included “payment of a special bonus, the removal of the general manager and an assurance that disciplinary action would not be pursued”.
However, it seems the workers at Kusasalethu were aware that the mine had fallen slightly short of its 2016 production target, which meant that they might lose an incentive bonus under the so-called Kaofela Challenge scheme.
Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said Harmony shot itself in the foot by bargaining with mine workers without the union. He denied that the sit-in stemmed from the production bonus.
“There was no target set. They just said if you [the mine workers] came back in the new year, you would get R3 000.”
According to Mathunjwa, the company promised a return-to-work bonus, which is not uncommon and is meant to compensate for the fact that migrant workers often return with very little money left to see them through January.
“It is wrong to say that this shows workers do not trust the union,” added Mathunjwa, after the sit-in was organised independently of Amcu.
Kusasalethu is one of the Harmony operations where Amcu has become the majority union, while its rival, the National Union of Mineworkers, retains dominance at the company overall.
According to Mathunjwa, he was forced to get involved and “clean up the mine management’s mess” for the sake of health and safety, despite his union not having organised the strike.
Harmony and Amcu’s versions coincide when it comes to details of the bonus deal having been struck without the union’s involvement.
So, Amcu should not have helped the company salvage the fallout, said Mathunjwa.
“If not for the safety issue, I would not have even gone there,” he told City Press.
According to Mathunjwa, Harmony had agreed to pay the R3 000 bonus this week.
This is where Harmony’s version of events is completely different.
The company told City Press that the R3 000 bonus related only to production targets. Kusasalethu did not meet its targets and workers were aware of this, said Harmony spokesperson Marian van der Walt via email.
She said the company had the discretion to still award it on account of the target having been narrowly missed. In other words, Harmony is not admitting to having conceded anything to the strikers this week.
“Management was not aware of the reason for the illegal sit-in until late afternoon on Thursday, January 12, when the union finally submitted its demands to management,” she said.
“Harmony never committed to paying employees a return-to-work bonus.”
Given that Kusasalethu has 4 600 mine workers, the total value of the R3 000 bonus amounts to R13.8 million.Read Fin24's top stories trending on Twitter: Fin24’s top stories