No common ground yet, says Amcu as Sibanye strike goes into week 10
Action that has already cost workers more than R1bn will enter its tenth week on Wednesday
The strike at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold operations, which has cost workers more than R1bn and deprived the company of the chance to take advantage of the boom in prices, will enter its 10th week on Wednesday after the latest attempt at talks failed.
Sibanye, the world’s largest producer of platinum group metals, has said its gold operations, which account for about 7% of group profit, will resume only when employees report for work. It has refused to budge as workers demand an increase that is four percentage points more than the average inflation rate forecast by the Reserve Bank for 2022.
The strike, which has put the spotlight on executive pay as unions pointed to CEO Neal Froneman’s R300m pay package to challenge the company’s argument that it can’t afford the increases, is just one case of labour instability as workers seek to be compensated for the effect of surging prices.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) downed tools on March 9, demanding an increase of R1,000 a month for three years, which amounts to a 9.8% rise in the first year, 8.8% in the second year and 8.2% in the third year for entry-level workers, including surface and underground miners.
Sibanye has tabled a final offer of R850, which includes an increase of R50 in the living-out allowance.
The offer translates to an increase of 7.8% in basic wages in the first year, 7.2% in the second, followed by 6.8% in the third year, above the central bank’s 3%-6% inflation target.
The Bank, which is due to announce its latest interest rate decision on Thursday, has forecast a headline inflation rate of 5.8% for 2022 and a return to near the midpoint of the target range in 2023. But that outlook has been clouded as the war in Ukraine has pushed prices higher, which is one of the factors that has caused workers to demand double-digit increases in some sectors — something that may cause increased vigilance by the Bank.
The parties met in Boksburg on Tuesday to try to resolve the impasse. Amcu general secretary Jeff Mphahlele told Business Day that there was “no common ground that we can reach now”.
NUM general secretary William Mabapa said: “For now we are still in discussions. Our mandate is a R1,000 increase [per month] for three years.”
He said the employer is unwilling to make any compromises: “They are still tabling the same offer.”
The two unions, which jointly represent about 25,000 of the 31,000 employees at Sibanye’s gold operations, have hit out at Froneman’s pay. He has pointed to the company’s performance to justify it.
Sibanye previously offered unions a R700 pay rise and a R100 increase in the living-out allowance each year for three years, and a 5% pay increase for artisans, miners and officials over the multiyear agreement. Two other unions, the United Association of SA and Solidarity, accepted the offer.
Amcu’s five-month strike from November 2018 at Sibanye’s gold operations cost the company R1.6bn and 110,000oz in production of gold, and claimed nine lives.
Workers forfeited R1.5bn in pay, only for Amcu to accept the same terms, following in the footsteps of rival unions.
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