On the streets: Members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union chant slogans during a march to the Minerals Council of SA in Johannesburg on January 22 2019. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
On the streets: Members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union chant slogans during a march to the Minerals Council of SA in Johannesburg on January 22 2019. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
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In the ongoing war with Sibanye-Stillwater, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) has lost another legal battle, this time an attempt to stop retrenchments at the gold mines where it has called on its members to go on a protracted strike.

In the latest setback for Amcu in the wage strike called on November 21, the union’s efforts to stop a retrenchment process at two of the three gold mines where about 14,000 of its members have downed tools were rejected by labour court judge Andre van Niekerk on Monday.

On Friday there was a scathing judgment from labour court judge Connie Prinsloo in her decision that a secondary strike by Amcu in gold, platinum, vanadium and other mines would be unprotected. She noted the level of violence in the Sibanye gold strike in which mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe said nine people had been killed and more than 60 houses burnt.

Amcu said it would appeal against the judgment which in its view violated its constitutional rights. It said it would also write a letter of complaint to the labour court’s judge president about Prinsloo’s “conduct” without being specific about what exactly it was she had done.

Sibanye issued a Section 189 notice in terms of the Labour Relations Act in February, notifying the four unions at its Beatrix and Driefontein mines in the Free State and Gauteng, respectively, of the need to retrench up to 5,873 people after those mines ran up cumulative losses of R1.2bn in the 17 months to November 2018.

Amcu called its members out on strike in November to demand a R1,000 a month pay increase instead of the R700 a month increase in the first two years and a R825 a month increase in the third year of a three-year wage deal signed with three other unions.

Amcu approached the labour court to halt the retrenchment process and the 60-day consultation process envisaged in Section 189, raising a number of arguments about why it thought the retrenchments had to be stopped.

The union said in court it could not readily access a “substantial number of its members” and that it could not meaningfully participate in the consultation process. It argued it could not investigate with the help of its members the “genuine commercial rationale” for the retrenchments.

However, judge Van Niekerk said this was not a responsibility of Sibanye’s but one that rested solely with Amcu’s leadership to “conduct any intra-union discussions, consultations or mandate seeking that may be required”.

In fact, he argued, the act made allowances for companies to retrench workers if there was a protracted strike provided the conditions of Section 189 were met.

The early stages of the consultation process were high-level, macro-economic discussions that Amcu’s leadership was capable of conducting without referral to its membership.

“Amcu has provided no evidence of any attempts to contact its members resident in the hostels, or the areas surrounding the affected operations or in the rural areas,” Van Niekerk said.

The union's submission that it had tried unsuccessfully to reach 27 of its 7,500 affected members was dismissed by the judge, who noted: “The less said about this assertion the better.”

Of the 13,658 employees at the Beatrix and Driefontein mines, Amcu represents about 56%, or 7,754 people. Amcu argued in court that the purpose of the retrenchments was to break the strike and reduce Amcu’s presence in the workplace.

“No proper factual foundation has been laid to sustain the conclusion, even on a prima facie basis, that the proposed retrenchment is a reprisal for the strike,” the judge said, noting that the talks about the financial difficulties at the mines had been under way since January 2017, long before Amcu called its wage strike.

seccombea@bdfm.co.za