Johannesburg - Lonmin chief executive Ben Magara has asked non-striking staff to take voluntary leave because the strike in the platinum belt was set to continue despite the resumption yesterday of talks to end the impasse.
At the same time, Eastern Cape workers are losing patience, according to a businessman who says they have threatened Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) president Joseph Mathunjwa.
“There seems to be a groundswell of discontent among workers, with an increasing number – apparently from the Eastern Cape – threatening Mathunjwa,” Sean Jones, a director of black-owned artisan training company Artisan Training Institute, said.
Yesterday, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) resumed wage talks when it met Amcu for the first time since negotiations collapsed three weeks ago with the parties poles apart.
However, face-to-face talks between the parties have yet to be scheduled.
“Given the reality of a prolonged strike and Amcu’s unrealistic demands, we have to make tough decisions to preserve and protect the business by reducing costs and conserving cash,” Magara said in a memo seen by Reuters.
Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey explained that the memo was addressed to the 6.1 percent of the 28 000-strong workforce who were not on strike and who worked mainly in the essential services division.
“We are encouraging the employees who have banks of leave to take it… we are looking at various ways to safeguard our business,” Vey said.
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe is expected to have another shot at restoring peace and stability in the sector when he meets trade unions and mining houses in Pretoria today.
Loane Sharp, the labour economist at human resources group Adcorp, has questioned the calibre of leadership in the platinum belt, saying Magara’s call was unfair to non-striking workers. Sharp blamed mining houses for not sticking to their decisions, citing the payment of bonuses promised to employees who returned to work.
He also called for a police presence to protect non-striking employees.
“I question whether we have the right leadership in the platinum belt. Non-striking workers should not be prejudiced; it sends the wrong signal to the striking workers.”
Sharp believed the intervention by the deputy president would not work. “Motlanthe has no real power, no real solutions,” Sharp said.
Motlanthe bowed out of public life this month and will not return to Parliament after the general election in May.
The CCMA said its mediators planned to meet trade unions and platinum producers separately this week in an effort to end the strike.
“This process has been continuous and ongoing, with this being an important step towards finding a mediated solution to the current industrial action,” CCMA director Nerine Kahn said.
The major producers say the damage done by the strike is irreparable. To date, they have lost R10 billion in revenue. Striking employees have lost R4.4bn in earnings.
Production at Lonmin, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) and Impala Platinum (Implats) has been disrupted since January 23, when Amcu went out on strike for a R12 500 basic salary for entry-level underground employees. The commodity producers have offered increases of between 7.5 percent and 9 percent a year.
Reuters reported on a big drop in the price of platinum yesterday alongside Magara’s call to staff. Platinum was fixed at $1 411 an ounce in London yesterday afternoon, down $21 from Tuesday’s second fix but off an earlier low of $1 399.70.
Lonmin shares added 45c to close at R50.80 on the JSE yesterday. Amplats rose 2 percent to R482.50 and Implats edged up 99c to R119.99.