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

Sibanye-Stillwater’s legal attempt to have a court declare unprotected a month-long strike by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and force its members back to work suffered a setback on Friday.

Labour court Judge Edwin Tlhotlhalemaje found he could not entirely rely on the company’s statistics backing its contention that three other unions, which had signed a wage agreement at Sibanye’s gold mines, had secured a 51% majority representation.

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) would have to verify memberships of the four unions at Sibanye’s gold division, which is the largest source of South African gold, and report back to the court no later than January 7.

The ruling dashed Sibanye’s hopes of having the strike declared unprotected and so compel Amcu’s 15,000 members back to work after the union called on its members to down tools on November 21, in what has been a violent strike in which Sibanye says three people have been killed.

Amcu said it was “elated” by the ruling, saying its experience was that its own membership had grown since calling the strike as opposed to the decline in numbers that Sibanye said it had found and had audited by a third party.

“We remain open for engagement with the employer, in order to arrive at a resolution to the wage dispute,” Amcu said.

The verification process by the CCMA will be complicated by the country largely shutting down for the year-end holidays, but it has been asked to do so within three days and report back by January 7.

“We continue to pursue a peaceful end to this strike and are confident about the veracity of the employee union affiliations presented to the court,” said Sibanye CEO Neal Froneman.

“We urge employees to return to work by January 3 2019, while we continue with the administrative processes,” he said, noting that 6,500 employees had qualified for a special cash advance by being at work or returning to work.

The sour relations between Amcu and Sibanye are important because Sibanye has launched an all-share bid for world number three platinum miner Lonmin, where Amcu is the largest union.

Amcu fiercely opposes the takeover, saying the number of jobs that will be lost is too high. It has lodged an appeal with the Competition Tribunal against its conditional approval of the transaction.