Johannesburg - Lonmin backed down yesterday on its campaign to communicate directly with workers on its wage offer in the face of unbridled defiance from the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) to continue the strike as well as indications that the interaction posed an imminent danger to the lives of striking employees.
In apparent acquiesence with Amcu’s warning for the company to stop communicating directly with workers and amid reports that the exchange endangered vulnerable employees, the third-biggest platinum producer said yesterday that it would abandon the communication campaign and expressed optimism that a breakthrough to the labour impasse was close at hand.
Lonmin spokeswoman Lerato Molebatsi said: “We will continue to communicate with our employees, they are our employees before they are Amcu members.”
Lonmin has thus far been the most proactive of the three beleaguered platinum companies – including Impala Platinum (Implats) and Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) – in trying to break the strike, but the latest acknowledgement of its mistakes marks the company’s desperation as it is in worse shape than its peers.
Lonmin is under pressure to get employees back to work because the strike has halted 100 percent of its operations.
Amplats and Implats have other assets that are not affected by the strike, and can weather the storm longer than Lonmin.
The mining house confirmed that some of the staff reporting for duty at its Marikana shafts were Amcu members but said their identities needed to be protected.
Molebatsi said Lonmin was hopeful there would be a resolution to the almost four-month-old wage strike in the platinum sector.
“We want to assure our employees that there will be a resolution to the strike,” Molebatsi said.
Among devices used by the platinum companies is a telephonic voice prompt system used by the companies to interact with the employees, which was set up in three languages: Zulu, Xhosa and Sotho.
It allows mineworkers to call in and answer specific questions regarding the offer on the table, their understanding of it and their willingness to accept the offer and return to work.
Ben Magara, Lonmin’s chief executive, previously said an overwhelming number of employees had shown support for the return to work campaign.
At the same time, Frans Baleni, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) general secretary, said yesterday that the union was providing security to its members and their families, who were targets of assassinations.
“A lot of money goes into security-related issues. When we have information that members’ lives are at risk, we assist temporarily where we can. Some people’s homes have been burnt and they do not have accommodation,” he said.
Livhuwani Mammburu, NUM’s acting spokesman, said: “We are concerned if our members go to work without being promised by the company it will protect them. It is dangerous, our members are being killed. We cannot encourage them to return to work if their safety is not guaranteed.
“Members are not protected from their homes, police are patrolling next to shafts, but not where the members live.”
About 70 000 Amcu members have been on strike since January 23 in support of a demand for a R12 500 basic wage for underground employees within four years.
They have rejected the firms’ latest revised offer of cash remuneration of R12 500, including living out and other allowances, by 2017.
Implats will not make public the final results of its survey of how many workers want to return to work.
Implats spokesman Johan Theron said the decision not to reveal the information came against the background of high tensions in Rustenburg and Amcu’s legal bid to stop employers from communicating directly with employees.
Lonmin, Amplats and Implats decided to communicate directly with their employees after talks with Amcu to resolve the strike broke down last month.
But Amcu approached the Labour Court this week to prevent the employers from communicating with union members. Additional reporting by Sapa