The newly powerful Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) has thrown down the gauntlet, making demands of the platinum industry that would rapidly escalate the demise of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in the sector.
At Lonmin, it has taken the company’s requests for an ultralow membership threshold, to accommodate the weakened NUM, to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.
Amcu wants the threshold for recognition set at 35%, knowing full well the NUM has only about 20% of workers as members, against Amcu’s 70%. Lonmin is seeking a 10% threshold as part of a “democratic, multiunion framework”.
If Amcu prevails, it will close down the NUM’s remaining presence at the company instantly. Amcu’s willingness to use the thresholds to eliminate the NUM is ironic, as the union is battling the NUM’s use of the same tactic elsewhere.
Earlier this year, Amcu and sometimes-ally Uasa fought a legal battle against the NUM around the same issue at BHP Billiton Energy Coal.
There, an NUM-negotiated threshold agreement forced Amcu and Uasa to double their membership or lose their rights.
The NUM also infamously negotiated a 51% threshold at Impala Platinum, in effect banning any other union before the strike wave of last year.
Amcu has also dashed any hopes for a platinum bargaining forum like the ones for the major gold and coal mines.
“This year, we will be submitting our demands to individual employers,” said Amcu in a statement.
In addition, it rejects the idea of a semiformal forum altogether and instead wants a fully fledged bargaining council.
With Amcu’s new-found majority at all three major platinum companies, it would then dominate a council that would be able to extend agreements to all the junior mining companies where the NUM has suffered less dramatic losses.
If the platinum industry got a real bargaining council, it would immediately be the second-largest council in the country, second only to that of the wide and diverse Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council.
The department of mineral resources’ latest statistics put employment in platinum at 195?356, although a full 28% of those are contract workers.
It would also be the only large council not dominated by a Cosatu union.