AMCU raises the stakes by using Sibanye-Stillwater to widen its Lonmin protest

THE timing of a strike called by the Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union (AMCU) at the premises of Sibanye-Stillwater’s West Rand gold assets is curious, coming less than a month before the summer holiday season kicks in.

One theory is that AMCU’s attempt to improve upon the three-year wage settlement accepted this month by Sibanye-Stillwater’s other three unions, including the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), is only part of the equation.

By far the greater factor at work is AMCU’s desire to widen its protest against planned retrenchments at Lonmin, the company Sibanye-Stillwater is due to take over pending a Competition Tribunal deliberation on Friday (November 23).

AMCU is arguing that Sibanye-Stillwater’s merger proposal is the actual motivation behind Lonmin’s retrenchments. Given the dominance of AMCU at Lonmin, and the strong relationship it has with Lonmin management, it is easy to see why it would be particularly unhappy to lose this membership.

Whether AMCU will be successful in extracting either a better wage deal from Sibanye-Stillwater, or have any effect on Lonmin retrenchments is highly questionable. The likeliest answer is no on either count.

Nonetheless, Sibanye-Stillwater has a strike on its hands.

In a society as highly tensioned as South Africa, and in an economic region as stretched as the West Rand, one can see a strike of any proportion is a headache.

What one can say is that about two-thirds of the workforce at Driefontein mine is AMCU-aligned, therefore the potential stayaway might be better observed at that mine’s shafts, whereas AMCU’s influence at Kloof is much smaller where the NUM predominates.

At both mines, however, there’s a sizeable distribution of union power which makes the potential for disruption significantly high. Contending with a strike of its own at South Deep, which is close to Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold mines, Gold Fields has opted for extreme restraint even though less than 200 NUM protestors are officially picketing.

In the background, there’s always the lesson of the Marikana atrocity, and although mine communities – formal and otherwise – are not positioned in close proximity to the gold mines as they were at Markikana, the risk of societal strife is always a feature.

Officially, Sibanye-Stillwater is taking a wait-and-see approach, as well as expressing an undertaking that the safety of employees is the priority over keeping some production going. But these must be worrying times for Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold assets especially as the fault lines with AMCU appear to be at the head office level which is where the wage talks have been breaking down.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Quite disgusting I might add,given the 40%decline in profits,and great amount of debt that Sibanye is enduring currently,should give a middle school child an idea of how much a company can take.Regardless of it,salaries are way above inflation,and AMCU still behaves arrogant and greedy,who ever is doing the decision making is a complete extremist,and doesnt deserve to be heard.

  2. Do the idiots running AMCU not realise that half the reason Lonmin is almost bust is because of expensive unproductive labor + low Platinum prices? How can striking help the situation? AMCU are worries about membership numbers and contributions, workers worry about income, food and a livelihood. Do they not think Sibanye have prepared for a strike and have surface material available to process while AMCU members sit at home and loose salaries? AMCU leadership need a kick in the ‘punjab”

    • Dear David,

      I strongly object to the “idiots running AMCU” comment. If this was written by myself , aimed at company bosses ( who happen to be whites) you would have edited/censored. Why is this comment , including other vitriolic diatribe , now allowed to be published?

      • Hi Goldspeculator

        I’m clearly no legal specialist in defamation so my editing is really a case of exercising my judgement on what’s acceptable. Calling someone a crook is probably too far; thinking someone has made a stupid call, or thinking someone is incompetent, or saying the Miningmx editor is “vacuous” as you have done today, is probably okay, although unpleasant to read.

        David

  3. I have read better articles by David than this one…It is vacuous!

    I am NOT a journalist, but setting context including providing figures surely will inform readers. Questions arising from reading are :
    1. Why did AMCU have a strong relationship with Lonmin ? What informs this assumption by the makes the editor?
    2. What % of workforce constitutes AMCU members at Driefontein? Or thats the mine with fatalities ? So surely production bonuses must have been low , how did that impact on negotiations? Could this have been compartmentalised and a recovery/bonus system designed to not jeopardise the wage negotiations?
    3. From Lonmin press statements etc, AMCU & its management had a frosty relationship stemming from Marikana? So much so, that Lonmin was non-tolerant of any procedural deviations by AMCU members on BCEA & LRA matters.
    4. SGL is not inheriting 20x ppl with Lonmin, BUT >25000…..and mostly now AMCU! So whats the approach going forward? Is it going to be a slugfest ? How sustainable is that approach given potential demoralising effect on other SGL ops in the area ( Rustenburg)?

    From above , readers can conclude that this AMCU strike is inopportune for SGL . So their press release just fans the flames of this already tense situation. Why NOT avert the strike , then deliver the counter measures via other means ( job reductions , relocations etc) post Lonmin deal ? Potentially, everything can go up in smoke and the toxicity of AMCU’s approach will take hold in most of SGL ops NOW! …. Thats an unholy mess , that is self-caused by senseless bargaining by Froneman et al!

    All that was requires is foresight …..NOT bullheadedness!

    I predict that this strike will mutate , if not stopped urgently! it is will be Driefontein , then Kloof, followed by Lonmin ops, thereafter Rustenburg ops…..then copy-cat strikes everywhere!

    The days of making demands of black labour without requiring the same sacrifices from white labour are over!

    Richard Adkerson ( CEO of Freeport-Mcmoran) :” In my mining career,I have learned than a mining strike is a contagious desease that can spread rapidly within a mining district , despite ones’ best endeavours”

  4. Yeah, that is right. Cripple Carletonville/Westonaria AND Rustenburg/Mooinooi…. Close all those mines and be done with it… These people have no idea of the risk they are taking with peoples lives…. But I do not think they care, to them it is all about power and showing off the power…

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