AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Still reeling from a five-month gold mining strike that cost Sibanye-Stillwater R1.5bn, the company is again locking horns with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), this time in the platinum sector.

In a briefing on wage negotiations with platinum miners, the majority union said there has been good progress with talks that started more than a month ago.

It, however, singled out Sibanye-Stillwater for its “shockingly low” and “utterly disappointing” offer regarding its Lonmin operations that the union said is intended to provoke a strike.

Not only did Amcu lead the strike at Sibanye’s gold operations that ended in April, in 2014 the union also led the longest strike yet in SA when negotiations stalled on the platinum belt.

At the start of the current platinum wage negotiations, Amcu announced it had revised its signature minimum wage demand of R12,500 to R17,000. At a media briefing on Tuesday, Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said the demand has been adjusted again.

Amcu’s three-year wage demand is now for an increase of R1,500 per year for entry-level workers and a 10% increase per year for skilled workers, as well as a number of other allowances, benefits and improvements in conditions of employment.

Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) is in the strongest financial position among the platinum producers and has offered an increase of R1,000 in the first year and R800 in the second and third year for entry-level workers. It has offered 5.5% for each of the three years to skilled workers.

Impala Platinum has offered R800 per year for entry-level workers and 5% each year for categories. Amcu members have rejected this offer, which is being revised, the union said.

Sibanye-Stillwater is insisting to have parallel engagements for its operations at Rustenburg Platinum Mine, which it acquired in 2016, and the operations formerly belonging to Lonmin that Sibanye took over in June 2019 that it now refers to as its Marikana operations.

At the Rustenburg Platinum Mine, the current offer for basic salary increases for entry-level workers is R700 in each of the first two years and R800 for year three. It has offered an increase of 4.3% per year for skilled workers.

At the Marikana operations, Sibanye’s offer for entry-level workers is an increase of R300 in the first year, followed by R350 and R400 in the subsequent two years respectively. For skilled workers, an increase of 3.3% in each year has been put on the table.

Mathunjwa said the offer is a slap in the face for workers. Lonmin swung back into profit in 2018, before it was acquired by Sibanye, thanks to high platinum group metal prices. Dedication from the workforce has also helped the company to turn the corner, he said.

Sibanye spokesperson James Wellstead said separate offers for its operations make sense because Lonmin was only acquired in June and would have already been engaged in a separate negotiation process anyway.

Wellstead said Sibanye’s Rustenburg operations and the former Lonmin operations have different financial and operational circumstances and this warrants a separate financial process.

He denied the offer is intended as a provocation.

“This is a process, not an event. We think the offer we put on the table reflects the tenuous position Lonmin is in.”

Mathunjwa said Amplats' offer of R1,000 in the first year is not too far removed from the demand of R1,500 and indicates “light at the end of the tunnel”.

Amcu will seek a mandate from its members at Amplats later this week, after which it will call a central mass meeting to consolidate its position.

steynl@businesslive.co.za