Lonmin strike had roots in wildcat strike at Impala, Marikana commission hears

The Lonmin strike had its roots in a similar strike initiated by rock-drill operators at Impala in February last year, the Marikana Commission of Inquiry has heard.

NUM secretary for health and safety Erick Gcilitshana told the commission that a unilateral wage increase at Impala Platinum in February 2012, which took place outside the collective bargaining structures, undermined a standing wage agreement and could have been responsible for the Lonmin strike.

Impala rock-drill operators went on an unprotected strike demanding R9 000 a month. The company reacted by dismissing 17 000 workers, but later withdrew the decision and rehired the majority of the workers.

Gcilitshana told the commission that the parallels between the Impala and Lonmin strikes were the involvement of rock-drill operators, and that the strikes were both accompanied by high levels of violence and intimidation.

Gcilitshana agreed with Burger’s submission that what happened at Impala raised expectations among rock-drill operators at Lonmin. He also agreed that the wage increases that followed Impala’s unprotected strike caused disparity in earnings between Lonmin rock-drill operators and others in the platinum belt of Rustenburg.

During cross-examination by Lonmin lawyer Schalk Burger, Gcilitshana conceded that Amcu had overtaken NUM in membership numbers in the Rustenburg platinum belt since last year’s violent unprotected strikes.

Gcilitshana agreed, when questioned by Burger, that Amcu had achieved this through violent means.

Burger previously submitted that the toxic relationship between the two unions was responsible for the violence that accompanied the Lonmin strike.

“We saw violence, intimidation and people die,” said Burger.

He referred to Gcilitshana’s statement in which he said five NUM members had been killed.

Burger asked Gcilitshana if he would agree with submission that the deaths were as a result of the rivalry between Amcu and NUM.

Gcilitshana said he could not agree because the strikers did not identify themselves as Amcu or NUM, but simply referred to themselves as workers.

Burger probed further, asking if there wasn’t any relationship between the deaths and the rivalry between the two unions.

He said the NUM had, since May 2011, dissuaded workers from engaging in unprotected strikes and from engaging in acts of violence, and went as far as convening mass meetings to address these concerns.

Gcilitshana said he had heard rumours that Amcu might be involved in the illegal strikes and had not heard of any of its efforts to broker peace.

The commission is probing the circumstances that led to the deaths of 44 people during a violent, unprotected strike by Lonmin employees in August last year.

The hearing continues.

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