Politics blamed for Lonmin tragedy

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Politicising labour unions was a major factor leading to the massacre of striking mineworkers at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine last week, Andrew Levy, a labour analyst at Andrew Levy Employment, said on Friday.

He said that violence during strikes had been on the rise since 2005, citing the public service and security workers strikes of 2010 and the metal and engineering strike last year. “Sooner or later, it had to come to this [Marikana]. Something should have been done by the government long ago about the violent strikes,” Levy said.

Rivalry between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) is said to have led to the tragic strike, although both unions have denied this.

Opinion has been expressed about Lonmin providing recognition to both unions to minimise tensions.

Levy said there was nothing to stop a company from having a recognition agreement with more than one union.

“But it will lead to great damage if the majority union says it will not deal with the other union. The recognition agreement cannot be changed then,” he said.

Gillian Findlay, a spokeswoman for Lonmin, said that Amcu had been given partial recognition by the company earlier this year.

On Friday, Frans Baleni, the general secretary of the NUM, said: “We have warned the company that there are underlying social factors behind the strike, like wages and housing. People are living in informal settlements in abject poverty.”

The unprotected strike at Marikana had all the hallmarks of the five-week strike at Impala Platinum, in Rustenburg, which took place earlier this year.

It was caused by the rivalry between the NUM and Amcu.

Eric Gcilitshana, a negotiator for the NUM at Lonmin, said a union had to have 50 percent plus one representation at the workplace to be recognised.

He said the NUM had 55 percent membership at Lonmin, or 16 000 members. Amcu had 35 percent.

However, on Friday Joseph Mathunjwa, the president of Amcu, said the union was recognised at Lonmin, with 7 000 members. It has about 30 000 members nationally, mostly at the listed company’s Karee mine.

Baleni said: “The partial recognition of Amcu means it can represent its members in disputes, has access to office space in order to recruit and can have its subscriptions deducted from its members’ payroll. We are happy with that. But when it comes to bargaining rights, we will not break the rule.”

The striking miners were demanding a wage increase from R4 000 a month to R12 500 a month. Lonmin said it was not prepared to renegotiate its two-year wage agreement with the NUM, which came into effect last October.

Gcilitshana said that under the agreement miners, artisans and rock drillers would get an increase of 9 percent each year, and foremen and shift supervisors 8 percent.


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