Implats boss describes AMCU’s under-fire Mathunjwa “extraordinary business partner”

Joseph Mathunjwa, president, AMCU

IMPALA Platinum (Implats) CEO, Nico Muller, was the latest platinum group metal (PGM) executive to strike a conciliatory note in respect of Joseph Mathunjwa, president of the Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union (AMCU) which has long duelled with gold and PGM companies on wages and working conditions.

Commenting at a business breakfast this week, Muller described Mathunjwa as “an extraordinary business partner”, and said there was a big difference between Mathunjwa’s public persona and his style as a unionist and negotiator.

“My personal journey with Joseph has been quite different,” said Muller of Mathunjwa’s public perception which is typified by firebrand, off-the-cuff statements. “From day one, he has been extraordinary; he has never turned his back on his word; he has been incredibly supportive,” said Muller.

According to Muller, in a quip at the breakfast presentation, he told Mathunjwa during their first meeting, that he was “scared of him”.

Muller’s comments come about four weeks after Mathunjwa’s long-time opponent in the mining sector, Neal Froneman, CEO of Sibanye-Stillwater, claimed to have reached “… a credible, respectful relationship – on both sides”.

AMCU opposed a wage agreement signed between rival union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold operations in 2018 that resulted in taking AMCU members out on a five-month strike before AMCU accepted the original offer as submitted by Sibanye-Stillwater.

Froneman said in February, the strike was really a precursor to AMCU opposing the takeover by Sibanye-Stillwater of Lonmin – an AMCU power base.

“We had to reset the relationship with AMCU as a result of having to incorporate Lonmin,” said Froneman. “Platinum group metal (wage) talks were approaching and we needed to stop making ridiculous claims. It (the strike) cost us a lot of money and the whole PGM industry has benefited, but never mind about that,” he said.

“We have a credible, respectful relationship on both sides.”

Mathunjwa could use all the support he gets has AMCU faces fresh controversy after the labour registrar, Lehlohonolo Molefe, asked the union to explain how more than R15m was paid to the union’s national executive committee (NEC) members as salaries.

Members of the unions’ NEC are ordinarily not paid salaries as they are not full-time employees, according to a report by EWN.

AMCU is due to provide an update regarding discussions with the registrar who has threatened to deregister the union. In the letter sent to the union last month, the registrar said he may cancel its registration as a trade union if it fails to comply with the law.

Muller said that during discussions regarding the proposed retrenchment of employees at the firm’s Rustenburg (Impala Lease Area) operations, AMCU’s “… participation was very good”. He added: “There’s the space he (Mathunjwa) occupies in the media space, and the space he occupies as a business partner. They are totally different things,” said Muller.

An improvement in the rand basket of platinum group metals eventually resulted in Implats stepping back from retrenching most of the 13,000 identified at its Implats Lease Area in Rustenburg. “Even if prices had remained where they are, there would be no reason to close them as the shafts have surpassed expectations,” said Muller.