Urgent steps to prevent miners strike called by Amcu

Mine workers' clothing. File picture
Mine workers' clothing. File picture
Image: Gallo Images/ iStockphoto

Urgent applications lodged in court by 15 mining companies to prevent Thursday’s sevenday secondary strike called by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) may stop the action before it starts.

The secondary strike is an attempt by Amcu to force the end of a protracted strike at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold mines and is seen by industry players as a high-stake effort by the union’s president Joseph Mathunjwa to show his power.

Amcu has issued notices at 15 gold and platinum mines, including AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold and platinum companies Impala Platinum and Northam, as well as at Glencore, warning of a secondary strike from February 28 to March 7.

Applications for an urgent decision were lodged on Friday with more expected on Monday and Tuesday.

Mathunjwa said the strike would bring the mining sector to a standstill.

Amcu has entered the fourth month of a wage strike at Sibanye-Stillwater’s three large gold mines, with 14,000 workers unpaid in a protected strike started by the union on November 21 to demand a R1,000 a month salary increase.

Sibanye has taken a hard line on the strike and has refused to budge on the wage demand, saying it would violate a three-year wage agreement with three other unions.

There is a tremendous legal battle in the background as Sibanye and Amcu argue in court about whether the union retains a slight majority over the other three unions and whether the agreement can be imposed on Amcu, rendering the strike unprotected.

Sibanye CEO Neal Froneman took a tough stance at the Modder East gold mine when he was CEO and at the Ezulwini mine under Sibanye, when protracted unprotected strikes resulted in the dismissal of thousands of strikers refusing to return to work.

Sibanye’s platinum mines had enough stockpiled material to sit out a seven-day strike, with no impact on the business, Froneman said.

“We can afford this strike for a much longer period. There are many other levers we can pull, but that’s not the smart thing to do,” he said.

The Minerals Council SA said 71% of SA’s gold mines were unprofitable or marginal in 2018 and half the country’s platinum mines were in a similar position.

“It is unfathomable that Amcu would willingly call for secondary strikes in an industry that is already in jeopardy,” council CEO Roger Baxter said.