In 60 days the axe could fall on the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), one of SA’s most militant and disruptive trade unions, after a senior government official gave notice on Wednesday of cancelling its registration.
There were two reasons for the notification of the pending cancellation of Amcu’s registration with the department of labour, said Lehlohonolo Molefe, the registrar of labour relations, in a government gazette.
"The trade union has ceased to function in terms of its constitution; and the trade union is not a genuine trade union as envisaged in the act," Molefe said in the brief notice, which urged written responses within the next 60 days to argue why Amcu’s registration should not be cancelled.
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Amcu was not available for comment despite repeated requests. The union has 250,000 active members, according to its website.
A senior mining industry executive who has dealt closely with Amcu in the past raised questions about the timing of the notice and why the union was being singled out when there were many other unions similarly failing their mandates.
Amcu is likely to challenge Molefe’s notice, both in writing and all the way through the courts with its strong financial resources and legal team, if its registration were terminated, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"The spirit of the labour legislation is to assist in industrial peace by supporting a dominant union. Nobody’s arguing Amcu is a dominant union in platinum, for example, but the department should help the union comply with that legislation to be a well-run union," said the executive.
"To threaten them with cancellation is not solving any problem. The timing of this announcement is very odd. I question the government’s motives and timing on this.
"There is no ways Amcu is going to be rolled over by the government and department of labour. No ways."
If Amcu were to be terminated, its members are most likely to join a more radical union such as the National Union of Metalworkers of SA, an analyst said. "Far from resolving anything it would just make issues more complex and more radical."
"It’s certainly a slap to the union’s prestige," Andrew Levy, managing partner of Andrew Levy Employment, which advises companies on labour relations and monitors industrial action, told Bloomberg.
Amcu terminated a five-month strike at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold mines on April 17. It cost the company R2.2bn in losses, according to a Moody’s estimate, and lost wages of between R700m and R800m for its 14,000 striking members.
The net result of the strike was Amcu’s signature on precisely the same agreement another three unions had signed just days before Amcu called its wage strike on November 21. It wrested a R4,000 per employee ex gratia payment out of Sibanye, which the company then extended to all of its qualifying workers, and a bus ride back to the mines.
Amcu is about to enter the platinum sector wage talks in June. There are mixed views on the way the union, which is the dominant union in the platinum industry, will handle the negotiations and on its preparedness to embark on another long and damaging strike at mines that have had their first real financial reprieve in a decade.
While Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa had little to lose in the strike in the gold mining sector, where its support has been patchy at various mines, the opposite is true in the platinum sector. He is likely to act far more strategically and unlikely to gamble as heavily as he did during the Sibanye strike, said the executive.
"If Mathunjwa abuses his position in platinum and his members turn their backs on him, he stands to lose everything," the executive said.
Mathunjwa said at a recent platinum conference that Amcu would most likely announce its backing of a political grouping on the May 1 Labour Day public holiday at a rally.
He clearly said the governing ANC would be "punished" for its market-friendly stance and its close alliance with companies such as Sibanye in its opposition to the Amcu strike.