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Joseph Mathunjwa, President, Amcu

NUM no innocent victim in Lonmin violence

Jan de Lange | Wed, 15 Aug 2012 09:40

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[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 that cool 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 itself.

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 wanted 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 said.

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 the 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.

- Sake24

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