Joseph Mathunjwa. Picture: IHSAAN HAFFEJEE.
Joseph Mathunjwa. Picture: IHSAAN HAFFEJEE.

A court ruling on Friday was the latest of a series of legal setbacks for the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) to keep its protracted wage strike going at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold mines.

Amcu’s gold mining members are now in the fifth month of a strike called by the union’s leadership on November 21 2018 to back its demand for a R1,000 a month salary increase. This was instead of the R700 monthly pay rise agreed with three other unions for the first two years of a three-year wage deal and R825 a month for the final year.

The Labour Court ruling by judge Edwin Tlhotlhalemaje on Friday disallowed an Amcu appeal against the union membership verification process ruling.

This cleared the way for Sibanye to extend its wage agreement to all its gold employees in line with a Labour Court ruling early last week pending a union membership verification process involving the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration. Sibanye has been steadfast in its court appearances that the three other unions represent the majority of workers at its gold mines since the start of the strike and it should be able to extend the wage agreement to Amcu’s members.

While Amcu can still obstruct the verification process, Sibanye could in the coming weeks complete the process and approach the court with the results to secure an end to the strike.

If the verification process proves the National Union of Mineworkers, Solidarity and Uasa are indeed in the majority as per the timelines set out in various judgments, it would mean the Amcu strike is no longer protected and Amcu’s members have incurred severe financial hardship for nothing.

Market commentators have long held that Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa was playing a high-risk game with the gold strike, which was seen to pressure Sibanye in its bid to take over Lonmin, where Amcu is the dominant union and is concerned about job losses related to the transaction.

Unable to prise any increase or concession out of Sibanye in the strike, which was marred by the murder of nine people and the burning down of more than 60 homes in the Carletonville area according to mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe, would leave Mathunjwa in a weakened position both as head of the union and ahead of platinum sector wage talks in coming months.

It will take more than 15 years to recoup lost salaries for Amcu’s 14,000 striking members, who have been on a no-work no-pay strike over the year-end period when they take money home to their families in rural SA and neighbouring countries. Many went home during the strike marked by the intransigence of both management and union leadership to budge on their respective positions.