AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Sibanye-Stillwater, SA’s largest gold miner and an important source of platinum group metals, is closely watching the support one of its unions attracts ahead of a possible strike in its platinum division.

Amid reports of particularly nasty violence in the protracted gold wage strike at Sibanye’s three gold mines called by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) on November 21 2918, Sibanye is gearing up for a secondary or sympathy strike at its platinum mines around Rustenburg.

“We are getting a sense that Amcu might not get the support it wants for a strike in the platinum mine, but as we’ve seen in the gold strike it only takes a few hostile people to intimidate others to stay away from work,” said Sibanye spokesperson James Wellsted.

One of the events to measure the extent of Amcu’s support for a secondary strike is the union’s march to the Minerals Council SA on Tuesday to highlight its unhappiness over miners’ wages.

Amcu called its 15,000 members at the gold mines out on strike to demand a R1,000 a month increase in wages despite three other unions settling for R700 a month extra for the first two years and R825 extra in the third year. The strike has been characterised by violence and intimidation since the start, with at least three people killed.

It will take striking workers years to recover their wages lost so far if Sibanye had to accede to Amcu’s demand for an extra R300 a month to match the union’s demand. Sibanye is adamant it will not pay Amcu’s demand.

In the latest spate of violence, homes of Sibanye employees still working have been targeted, with a house firebombed in one instance and an 8-year-old girl left with 80% burns. Employees have been sent threatening messages, noting they were still working and should desist.

With little more than half the workforce continuing to work, Sibanye achieved 1.1-million ounces of gold for 2018, narrowly missing its full-year target of up to 1.16-million ounces. However, with the marginal nature of some of its shafts, there would be negative consequences the longer the strike goes on in the no-work no-pay action that saw strikers losing their Christmas bonuses.

Sibanye and Amcu are locked in a legal tussle over the verification of membership numbers, which could determine whether the other three unions are dominant and that the wage settlement must be extended to the whole gold workforce.

Sibanye is considering its legal options to stop a secondary strike at its profitable and successful platinum division but has yet to apply for an interdict to prevent it.