Workers call strike at Bushveld Minerals’ Vametco over employee benefits deal

WORKERS at Bushveld Minerals’ Vametco vanadium-producing facility in South Africa’s North West province downed tools on Friday in protest against the terms of an employee participation plan (EPP), the company announced.

An EPP had been previously agreed with the Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union (AMCU) which is the representative union at the mine. Benefits included production-related bonuses employees receive during the year.

Whilst Bushveld Minerals was yet to receive a formal notice from organised labour, it believed worker expectations were not in line with the agreed EPP.

The industrial action was unprotected; in other words not sanctioned in terms of the Labour Relations Act protocol.

This development could represent a bit of a blow for Bushveld Minerals which was already pushing for a strong performance out of Vametco this year after recently unplanned maintenance-related stoppages hurt fourth quarter production. Further downtime of some 35 days’ duration had been pencilled in at Vametco this year.

Bushveld Minerals’ vanadium production for 2021 was recently estimated to be between 4,100 tons to 4,350 tons. This represented a 13% to 20% increase over 2020 production (3,631 tons), including the planned maintenance at Vametco. Bushveld also produces vanadium from Vanchem, facilities situated near to Emalahleni in Mpumalanga province

Bushveld Minerals said that during “a series of meetings” between senior management and AMCU it was agreed that “… all reasonable steps would be taken to urge employees to safely return to work”.

Bushveld Minerals plans to expand its South African vanadium production to 8,400 tons a year from 2,931 in its 2019 financial year. All in all, its expansion ambitions carry a $100m price tag. It spent $53m last year buying the Vanchem facilities from a rival company. It also has the Mokopane vanadium resource that it wants to develop.

Vanadium is used in the steel manufacturing process but it has also been earmarked to play a greater role in the development of stationary long-life batteries which are thought to have a role in decarbonisation.