Rivalry between the unions at Lonmin’s Marikana mine raised the spectre of unrest again yesterday as more than 6 000 workers downed tools in a protest over office allocation.
Yesterday’s protests reportedly ensued when members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) demanded that the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) close down its office at the Saffy shaft, as it was too close to their own.
The disorder underscored that underlying tensions between unions were far from being resolved despite efforts for peace and stability by the government and the industry following the police shooting of 34 strikers at Lonmin last year.
The news of yesterday’s protest action briefly pushed the rand lower against the dollar, while Lonmin shares tumbled by more than 2 percent at one stage, before closing 1.62 percent down at R45.49.
Any sign of fresh chaos at Lonmin threatens an uneasy lull in hostilities seven months after unrest at the platinum producer rocked the mining sector, leading to the deaths of more than 40 people.
NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said the union’s shop stewards would not vacate its office. “We represent workers, we will continue to operate from the office. We will regard Amcu’s illegal strike as utter madness,” Seshoka said.
Amcu was not available for comment yesterday. Lonmin bosses also stuck to their guns, saying they would not submit to any parties going outside the recognition agreement.
The company was meeting with unions to establish a new recognition policy that promoted “industrial democracy and inclusivity”, the company said. There was no new recognition agreement in place yet.
“Lonmin is all too aware of the dangers of a majoritarian recognition system and is in ongoing consultation with unions over this and related matters,” it said.
“This is a complex issue, and we encourage worker representatives to act responsibly and within the framework of labour legislation and the recent industry peace accord.”
The peace accord was signed last September following the killings at the mine.
According to Reuters, Lonmin’s executive vice-president Mike Munroe said that the management would meet with the unions to discuss yesterday’s events. The incident coincided with a visit to the platinum mine by the media.
Earlier, conflicting messages from the company had added to confusion about the protest. It initially said workers from four shafts were involved in an illegal stoppage, then returned to work. It later said miners from the Saffy and Newman shafts were still out.
Minster of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu, industry bosses, the Chamber of Mines and unions including the NUM, Amcu, Solidarity, Uasa and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA signed a framework for peace and stability in mining two weeks ago.
The framework aimed to promote peace, tolerance and freedom of association for mine employees.
The framework for peace and stability was penned after 15 people were injured at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) last month in union violence between members of the NUM and Amcu.
Amplats has plans to retrench up to 14 000 workers in its restructuring plan amid financial constraints. With additional reporting by Reuters