Sibanye-Stillwater, unions try to save wage pact amid new dispute on ex-gratia payment

DRIEFONTEIN, SOUTH AFRICA - MAY 09: Sibanye Stillwater employees affiliated to AMCU and NUM protest at the mine's stadium on May 09, 2022 in Driefontein, South Africa. It is reported that the striking unions are are demanding an increase of R1000.00 per month . (Photo by Gallo Images/City Press/Tebogo Letsie)

SIBANYE-Stillwater and a coalition of unions are holding eleventh hour talks in a bid to save a wage agreement provisionally agreed last week.

James Wellsted, senior vice-president of corporate affairs for the gold and PGM producer, said leadership at the Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union (AMCU) was unhappy that a R3,000 ex-gratia payment had not been extended to all categories of employees at their gold mines.

The payment was part of a three-year wage agreement mediated by the Commission for Conciliation, Arbitration and Mediation (CCMA) that included basic wage increases of R1,000, R900 and R850 per month over years one to three for category 4 to 8 employees, equal to an average 6.3% increase over the period.

Artisans and officials are to receive a 5%, 5.5% and 5% wage uplift over the three years in the CCMA’s proposal which was accepted by members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and AMCU on June 3.

According to Wellsted, AMCU leadership also cavilled over the fact the ex-gratia payment to employees was extended to members of UASA and Solidarity – unions that had initially participated in the AMCU/NUM coalition before accepting Sibanye-Stillwater’s terms prior to a strike being called by NUM and AMCU.

A meeting to consummate the wage agreement was due to take place on June 6. Instead, NUM and AMCU held a caucus meeting in which other aspects of the wage agreement negotiated last year were also altered.

The fallout was so fractious that the CCMA threatened to bail entirely from its mediation proposal. “We have been able to get claw back the agreement on most points, but a sticking point is the ex-gratia payment and a few other areas,” Wellsted said.

The company and unions were meeting again today along with the CCMA.

Failure to sign the in-principle agreement put forward by the CCMA means employees have not been paid for another week and raises the potential the strike could be prolonged into a fourth month.

Azar Jammine, chief economist at Econometrix, told BusinessLive that union members “lost out badly” for sustaining a strike at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold mines. “They lost a fortune of money for having been out on strike for so long, and they have not got so much from the proposed wage deal,” he told the publication on Monday.

“The only losers are the workers if they carry on with the strike. Union leaders and company management get their salaries irrespective, but the workers don’t,” said René Hochreiter, an analyst for Noah Capital Markets and MD of Sieberana Research.

William Mabapa, general-secretary of the NUM, rejected these criticisms, however. He said they were “not correct”.