The chill in the room came from the absence of the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) as other trade unions, mining firms and Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu signed a framework agreement on peace and stability in the mining industry yesterday.
Amcu, which has a reputation for charting its own path, refused to be part of the industry agreement to stem violent labour demonstrations and protracted disruption of productivity which has plagued mining companies, particularly since the start of the infamous Marikana demonstrations in August last year.
Existing wage agreements come to an end on June 30, and it was important to have a central bargaining structure in place before the start of wage talks in May, Elize Strydom, the senior executive for industrial relations at the Chamber of Mines, said on the sidelines of the signing ceremony.
“Unfortunately Amcu withdrew, we are trying to get them back to the table because they are a key stakeholder in the platinum sector,” she said.
Shabangu said she was concerned that Amcu had pulled out of the talks. It had claimed to be consulting with its members on Tuesday, but did not return to the table despite promises to do so.
Amcu has made inroads in the platinum sector and its rivalry with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) exacerbated tensions in the wave of wildcat strikes last year.
The minister recognised the growth, and said she would continue to counsel Amcu to commit to the agreement as it had grown in membership since the violent protests in the mining sector late last year.
“We continue to persuade them in the interest of the country, and economy. We need them. They have said to us they have majority members. If they are confident they must come with their members,” she said.
“I agree Amcu has grown in membership. This is part of the process of engaging them. We assume they have capacity problems, they must come to stakeholders to say help us. We are willing to help.”
Amcu was not available for comment yesterday.
The centralised bargaining forum talks, which were set up after violent unrest that spread from Lonmin’s Marikana mine in Rustenburg last August, are seen as a priority as the mining industry charts a way forward after it was brought to a standstill.
The violent labour unrest has added to pressure on the mining industry, which contributes about 9.2 percent of gross domestic product, as soaring costs have squeezed profit margins and global financial uncertainty has moderated demand for commodities.
Fifteen people were injured after security guards opened fire when about 1 000 workers attacked four NUM members in a union office at Anglo American Platinum’s Siphumelele mine in Rustenburg on Monday.
Shabangu, who held meetings with unions and mine management in an attempt to end the impasse, said yesterday that the framework would promote tolerance among unions and bring stability to the troubled sector.