Marikana mineworkers feel shafted by Amcu
As Amcu’s power wanes disillusioned members say the union is failing to protect jobs and render quality labour services
Workers have accused the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which rose to prominence in the North West’s platinum belt, of failing to live up to its lofty promises as job losses in mining begin to bite.
The union burst onto the scene in the build-up to and the aftermath of the 2012 Marikana massacre, following which its membership numbers swelled and it unseated the ANC-aligned National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) as the dominant labour force in the area and platinum sector.
Almost five years later, Amcu has lost 6,500 members in Marikana in the past year and there are fears more job losses are looming amid talk of retrenchments.
It is against this backdrop that Amcu members are disillusioned and say the union is failing to protect jobs and render quality labour services.
On a recent visit to Marikana, Business Day encountered an area riven by socioeconomic strife as Lonmin, one of the top platinum producers in the world and one of the biggest employers in the town, has retrenched mineworkers in their thousands. More retrenchments are on the cards.
A worker, who did not want to be named, told Business Day that, just like the NUM, Amcu was also failing workers.
"The problem is with cases — there are a lot of people losing cases and they feel the union is not there for them. It’s also maybe because they are now comfortable like NUM was," he said.
When Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa was asked about the gripes, he questioned the workers’ credentials.
Mathunjwa said Amcu members had several avenues for airing their grievances and he was confident about the union’s capacity to represent its members.
During a visit to one of Amcu’s branches at Marikana, the cracks in the union were apparent — its Western Platinum offices were locked last week as two factions in the branch leadership struggled over its control.
Mathunjwa had a ready explanation: regional leaders were resolving the issue.
Meetings were called last week to discuss the state of the union and workers’ concerns.
One such meeting was at the local hall, where leaders discussed union strategies.
A union leader told Business Day the meeting was tense because of concerns about job insecurity in the area.
Amcu represents more than 80% of workers at Lonmin’s Marikana operations.
The spectre of job losses looms large because talk in the town is that Lonmin is planning to retrench workers at its Newman shaft, which could affect up to 2,500 people.
Mathunjwa says Amcu is still awaiting presentations from the mine, but he understands there are health and safety issues with the old shaft and it is deemed unsafe.
Lonmin dismissed the concerns, saying existing formal structures at which such issues are discussed have not opened discussions with Amcu.
Workers who spoke to Business Day said their greatest concern was the ease with which others lost their jobs.
It is for this reason that they were irked by the protesting Bapo Ba Mogale community, which recently set alight a bus and blocked the main roads linking shafts and areas where mineworkers live.
Union leaders say they had to reason with workers not to confront the protesters as that would have led to violence.
Lonmin says it had to close two shafts, which have since reopened, as the community demanded jobs from the mine.
"We closed our E2 and E3 shafts as the safety of our employees and our property was threatened," Lonmin said.
Mathunjwa said the community protest was necessitated by "this populist narrative of radical economic transformation and is now used politically".
He questioned how anyone living in SA could demand 1,000 jobs from Lonmin.
He does concede, however, that declines in Amcu’s membership threaten its bargaining power with employers, but he remains confident the union is losing members because of retrenchments — not disillusionment with the handling of workers’ gripes.