AN unresolved underground sit-in at Bafokeng Rasimone Platinum Mine (BRPM) involving more than 2,200 employees was related to concerns over their benefits following the takeover of the mine earlier this year by Impala Platinum (Implats).
Implats acquired Royal Bafokeng Platinum (RBPlat) in July following a two-year stand-off with Northam Platinum which also wanted to buy RBPlat. BRPM comprises about half of the 450,000 ounce a year production at RBPlat’s assets.
Implats said employee grievances at BRPM related to “several misinterpretations and misunderstandings” including views that accumulated pension fund balances of employees can be paid out to employees.
Other misonceptions held by the principals behind the sit-in were that statutory taxation provisions should not apply to award and/or bonus payments, as well as concerns related to “the historical employee profit share arrangement being converted, at the election of employees, into an employee share ownership trust”, said Implats.
Access to BRPM’s north and south shafts had been kept open so that employees could return to surface and to allow for provisions and support, said Implats. While there was no sign of a resolution, some 167 employees had returned to surface. That means 2,038 employees are set to remain underground for a third night.
The strike began on Monday after the night shift declined to return to surface. Implats said tonight that some employees could be held ‘under duress’. The sit-in was without the sanction of the majority employee representative, the National Union of Mineworkers, the company said.
Implats repeated an earlier warning that as the sit-in had resulted in suspended production at the mine, it would endanger lives and “livelihoods”.
“Given prevailing low platinum group metal (PGM) prices, the financial sustainability of the broader PGM industry is at risk,” it said. “This illegal protest action serves to aggravate this position at Impala Bafokeng, adding unnecessary additional pressure on the operation and, as such, its ability to sustain employment,” said Implats.
The sit-in caps a difficult year for Implats which on November 27 suffered a catastrophic accident at at 11 shaft in Impala Platinum’s (Implats’) Rustenburg Mines. A total of 13 miners died as the result of a conveyance failure and a further 75 were injured. In addition, the company has announced cost cutting measures.
Underground sit-ins were held at the mines of Wesizwe Platinum as well as the the gold production facilities of Gold One. But this is the first time the illegal activity has been extended to one of South Africa’s largest miners.