[miningmx] -- THERE seems to be a great desire among some of the established
players in the mining industry, none more so than the National Union of
Mineworkers (NUM), to get rid of the new trouble-stirring trade union Amcu.
After all, 10 people have been killed since the weekend at Lonmin’s Marikana
operations, two of the victims being policemen sent there to maintain order. NUM is
all for sending in the defence force and it will not be a surprise if the government at
some stage decides to answer the ongoing violence with even more violence.
The life of a mineworker is by no means worth less than that of a policeman, but
when an upkeeper of law and order is murdered under such circumstances it stands
as a symbol that the state’s authority is being challenged. Many politicians have built
their careers on reactions to such challenges.
The risk of further conflict in the platinum region is therefore very high. Let’s hope
thinking triumphs over hotheadedness.
The situation is very similar to the violent strike that brought Impala Platinum
(Implats) to a halt for weeks earlier this year. Just as at Implats, rock drill operators
initially embarked on a strike at Lonmin. At Implats it led to large-scale intimidation
and violence, but at Lonmin the violence reached a new level of intensity.
One strange aspect about these events is NUM’s reaction – not only at Lonmin now,
but also in the aftermath of the events at Implats. At its congress in June, NUM
presented itself as the victim of the violence and said it had no choice but to defend
Lonmin’s explanation about what happened since Friday is rather vague, but it
implies that about 3,000 rock drill operators held an “illegal” strike which quickly led
to criminal behaviour between the opposing parties. The protest, according to
Lonmin, involved intimidation and violence directed towards employees who
to report for work.
On Sunday the first deaths occurred when two security guards were murdered.
Lonmin is also complaining that so far it has not received any indication from the
trade unions about their complaints or what they are dissatisfied about. Amcu had a
different version about what happened during the strike and subsequent protest
march. It says the march passed a NUM office, and then the rock drill operators were
fired on by people in the NUM office.
This kind of contradiction is not unusual in such circumstances. In addition, both
accounts are by bystanders – no Lonmin managers or Amcu officials were present at
the protest. Wild accusations, often bordering on libel, are the order of the day.
However, just as at Implats, Lonmin’s management initially tried to appease the
compensation grievances of the rock drill operators with a “market adjustment” in
these workers' salary – an arbitrary increase of R700 a
month. “This is a
management prerogative,” Lonmin Head of Human Resources, Barnard Makwena
Various NUM office bearers, from President Zenzeni Zokwana to the normally
moderate General Secretary Frans Baleni, speak about Amcu in extremely
aggressive terms. NUM also refuses absolutely to sit down in a meeting around a
table with Amcu.
Makwena said NUM was informed in March that the union’s membership at Lonmin
had fallen to below the required minimum level of 51%. The recognition agreement
stipulates that NUM will get six months – in this case to the end of September – to
restore its membership tally. If the trade union fails to do this, new negotiation
arrangements have to be agreed on.
The cooling-down period is normally used in trade union recognition agreements. It
is included because trade union membership in a workplace can fall for many
reasons – boredom, natural staff turnover and even administrative problems with
deduction of stop orders for membership fees.
What is happening at Lonmin now and happened earlier at Implats is that the trade
union that workers prefer to represent them does not get recognition because of the
cooling-off period. And this creates the dangerous situation we now see at South
Africa’s vulnerable platinum mines.