Remembering: Amcu’s Joseph Mathunjwa addresses the crowd at the recent commemoration of the Marikana massacre. Picture: MASI LOSI
Remembering: Amcu’s Joseph Mathunjwa addresses the crowd at the recent commemoration of the Marikana massacre. Picture: MASI LOSI

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which recently emerged from a bruising five-month strike at Sibanye-Stillwater's gold division, has thrown down the gauntlet saying it could again down tools to force platinum mining bosses to accede to its wage demands.

The union has, however, referred its dispute with the employers to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). 

Another debilitating strike in the mining industry could further hurt the economy, which is projected to grow 0.6% in 2019.

“We will do whatever is within the law to pursue our demands. That doesn't necessarily mean going on strike,” Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said.

“But let these mines not be fooled into thinking we don't have an appetite [for a strike]. We can go and strike anytime, but we believe that we can reach an agreement without a strike.”

Mathunjwa made the remarks during a media briefing in Johannesburg on Tuesday about wage negotiations, safety, and retrenchments in the platinum sector, where Amcu is the majority union.

The threats of a strike come after Sibanye-Stillwater, the world's largest platinum miner, announced in September that it would retrench 5,270 workers at the Lonmin mine it now owns.

Business Day TV caught up with Amcu's leader Joseph Mathunjwa to find out where the discussions with the miners stand.

Mathunjwa said the planned retrenchments had nothing to do with Sibanye-Stillwater's profitability.

“In fact, according to Lonmin’s 2018 annual report, Lonmin made a net profit of R68bn year on year from 2017 to 2018. During the first six months of 2019, the Lonmin operations generated an unaudited $70m. This proves that Lonmin was indeed profitable when Sibanye-Stillwater acquired it.”

He said Amcu would campaign for the Labour Relations Act's section 189, which deals with retrenchments, to be amended, bemoaning that it was currently “too easy for employers to butcher the livelihoods of workers only for the sake of hyper profits”.

In November 2018, Amcu embarked on a five-month shutdown of Sibanye-Stillwater's gold mines demanding R1,000 yearly wage increments for the next three years. The industrial action, which lasted until April, resulted in the company running up losses of about R1.5bn.

However, the strike was seen as a failure as Amcu later signed the 2018 three-year wage agreement previously signed with the National Union of Mineworkers, Solidarity and the United Association of SA, for a wage increase of R750 a year for the period July 1 2018 to June 30 2021.

On Tuesday Mathunjwa said that while their battle cry over the years had been for a living wage of R12,500 per month for lowest-paid workers, in 2019 it was agreed to adjust the figure to R17,000 per month.

He said that during mass meetings, their members had also given them a mandate to look at an increase of R1,500 per month for every year of a three-year wage agreement.

The wage talks between Amcu and Impala Platinum, Sibanye-Stillwater and Anglo American Platinum started on July 9, but after three months of negotiating, “we have not reached an agreement with one of the employers yet”, Mathunjwa said.

“While we are making good progress with Anglo and Impala, who have both crossed the R1,000 mark, Sibanye-Stillwater remains a stumbling block,” he added.

Amcu had resolved that it would not accept any amount less than R1,000.

“We have now exhausted the internal dispute resolution mechanisms at all the companies, save for Impala, where we will still have a mass meeting this week to engage with members,” he said.

“We have referred mutual interest disputes to the CCMA, and we are positive that the CCMA will facilitate progress and resolution so that we may conclude these negotiations and get back to work.”

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za