Amcu claims strike victory

24 June 2014 - 02:03
By TJ Strydom and Olebogeng Molatlhwa
MASS APPEAL: Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa outside Impala's Joburg offices
Image: Picture: MOELETSI MABE MASS APPEAL: Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa outside Impala's Joburg offices

Platinum miners are getting ready to return to work tomorrow as the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union claims victory after a five-month strike.

"The strike is officially over," Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa told thousands of workers at the Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg, North West, yesterday.

Earlier in the day the Labour Court granted the Chamber of Mines an interdict preventing Amcu from going on strike in the gold sector. The interdict means the union would have to embark on an unprotected strike if it wanted to try and get gold miners the same deal it struck - with a protected strike - on the platinum belt.

After reaching an agreement "in principle" with Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin 12 days ago, Mathunjwa and his union backtracked last week and tabled new demands to the companies, such as a R3000 bonus for signing the agreement and a moratorium on retrenchments.

But retrenchments will almost certainly happen, according to University of Cape Town economics professor Haroon Bhorat.

"The effect is patently clear. The strike has eroded [the country's] GDP base," he said in a Barclays Capital conference call yesterday.

Half of the mines affected by the strike are not profitable, according to the companies. And, though workers will return tomorrow for medical checkups and a gradual ramp-up of operations, The Times understands that the platinum companies will assess their options within the next few months.

By yesterday afternoon the producers claimed they had lost revenue of nearly R24-billion since the strike began on January 23.

More than 70000 workers have missed five pay cheques due to the no-work-no-pay principle and many have been forced to turn to charity. Extended families suffered as far afield as the Eastern Cape, Lesotho and Mozambique.

Combined wage losses came to more than R10.6-billion, according to the companies.

The strike dragged South Africa into negative economic growth in the first quarter of the year and has devastated businesses operating in the Rustenburg area.

Amcu wanted basic wages to be more than doubled to R12500 a month, but in the end agreed to a three-year deal that will come to increases of about 20%, or R1000, a month.

Schedules passed around at yesterday's mass meeting in Rustenburg, urged workers to return to work tomorrow.

NUM general secretary Frans Baleni dismissed the settlement, saying any benefits to workers had been wiped out by the prolonged duration of the strike.

"The strike has divided workers, not united them. The mistake people make is to think that there is something new that has come out of this settlement. We signed [an agreement for] 8%, while they got 10.5%. That's a difference of two [percentage] points. According to our calculations, it will take them [Amcu workers] 12 years to return to where they were before the strike began," said Baleni.

Amcu is the majority union in the platinum industry, but does not hold the same sway in gold mines.

Baleni denied that the Amcu settlement posed a danger to the survival of NUM.

Additional reporting by Reuters