Neal Froneman. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Neal Froneman. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) is playing a high-stakes poker game with the steely Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman and the ultimate losers are the 32,200 employees at the company’s gold mines.

Amcu has called a year-end strike at Sibanye’s three large gold mines and supporting structures by its 15,000 members at a time when the mines are coming out of a very difficult first six months of 2018 during which 21 employees were killed in various incidents.

The operational recovery started slowly in the third quarter, but the wage strike called by Amcu to force through its demands that it first tabled in July when talks started is derailing any progress the company saw at its embattled gold mines.

The timing of the strike is peculiar, coming as it does at the end of the year when underground workers push hard to secure their bonuses.

Why Amcu would jeopardise their members’ bonuses and by extension negatively affect their families is unclear.

From some accounts, the timing of the strike is increasingly unpopular and it seems Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa has painted himself into a corner with his unequivocal demands for a flat R1,000 a month increase after three other unions settled for slightly lower increases.

Froneman is not going to back down, having already stated that above-inflation wage increases are one of the key reasons for the dismal state of SA’s gold mining industry.

The stage is set for a humiliating climb down by one party or the other and Froneman is not the type to blink. But then neither is Mathunjwa. However, his hand may be forced if support for the strike from his members evaporates as financial realities settle in ahead of Christmas. ​