Johannesburg - A potentially deadly showdown looms today between Lonmin and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).
Lonmin has laid the ground for restarting its operations after bypassing the trade union and engaging directly with workers to get them back to work after a four-month strike.
The company has vowed to re-open its operations today. The day’s events are particularly important as they imply it is make or break for the platinum companies, which need to get workers streaming through the turnstiles, and for Amcu, which wants to show it can continue its strike effectively.
Tony Healy, a labour expert from Tony Healy and Associates, said he believed the miners had been starved back to work. The union had been broken into “drips and drabs” as the staunchest of the strike’s supporters became increasingly frustrated.
At least four workers have been murdered since the companies – Lonmin, Impala Platinum and Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) – embarked on a mission last month to engage directly with miners in an attempt to get them back to work.
“Strikers returning to work are increasing in numbers and the violence will get worse before it gets better,” he said.
Healy suggested that the most proactive role the government could play was to ensure the safety of those who wanted to return after nearly four months with no pay and more than R7 billion lost in wages.
Healy said a strike was the most powerful economic tool that workers could use on their employers. But the ultimate weapon had failed, with negative consequences for the union.
Amcu now found itself with a dilemma and it was grasping at straws to save face after the platinum producers stuck to their latest offer of reaching R12 500 a month by 2017.
“Amcu has achieved something by getting the companies to commit on the R12 500 a month remuneration [by 2017].
“However, I cannot see Amcu coming out of this unscathed,” Healy said.
After at least four deaths this week and continuing threats of violence, it raises the question of what producers will do to ensure workers are safe.
Amplats spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole told Business Report yesterday that the company had been running a safe passage plan for some time.
“We have had to intensify our security measures on the ground. We have also been engaging with the local law enforcement authorities and are encouraged by the position taken by the minister of police for an increase in visible policing levels in North West.”
The Chamber of Mines condemned the murders, spokeswoman Zingaphi Matanzima said. “The right to strike is as important as the right to work. We implore all workers to uphold this right and respect the lives of their fellow workers.”
Ahead of today’s potential stand-off, the Economic Freedom Fighters, which gained 6 percent of the national vote and is now the official opposition in the North West, donated R50 000 to Amcu’s strike fund. - Business Report
January 21: Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin receive
48-hour notice of a strike from the Association of Mineworkers and
Construction Union (Amcu).
January 23: About 70 000 Amcu workers down tools at the three major producers in support of their R12 500 a month basic wage demand.
January 27: Three-day talks between Amcu and employers begin, facilitated
by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).
January 29: Employers table a revised three-year offer in which salaries of lowest paid employees will increase by between 7.5 percent and |9 percent a year. Amcu rejects the offer.
February 5: The talks are halted after parties are unable to break the
March 6: Amcu marches to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to hand a memorandum to President Jacob Zuma.
April 15: Amcu launches a R1 million strike fund in an attempt to meet its
members’ basic needs.
April 17: Employers table a revised offer of minimum cash remuneration (comprising basic wages and holiday, living-out and other allowances) rising to R12 500 for underground employees by July 2017.
April 24: Employers announce their plans to approach striking employees
directly with their offer through SMS, local radio campaigns and meetings in
their rural homes in the Eastern Cape after talks break down.
May 5: Amcu officially rejects the latest wage offer.
May 8: Deadline for Lonmin staff to show their intention to return to work.
May 12: Police report that a 60-year-old Lonmin male employee was found murdered between Saffi shaft and Bob mine hostel at about 5am, and six people were assaulted in the vicinity. Two other miners were reportedly killed on their way to work at Lonmin’s Eastern Platinum mine in the early hours and two other Lonmin staff were killed at their home in Bapong.
May 14: Lonmin provisional date for employees to return to work.