Johannesburg - The wage strike called by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which is expected to halt production at platinum and some gold companies from Thursday, faces stiff opposition from dissenting workers and the Chamber of Mines.
Following Sunday’s speech by Amcu President Joseph Mathunjwa, dissenting shop stewards stung by accusations of corruption enlisted the support of the Workers and Socialist Party (Wasp) convened a press conference in Johannesburg yesterday at which they threatened to quit the union.
The shop stewards said while the demand for R12 500 minimum wage was justifiable, they were sceptical of Amcu’s capacity to win it
Also yesterday, the Chamber of Mines said it would approach the courts for an interdict because it believed the strike was illegal.
These factors might throw a spanner in the works of the now imminent strike, which was called to press home a wage demand of R12 500 a month against a backdrop of subdued growth in the country’s mining sector.
It will weigh heavily on mining output, which accounts for half of South Africa’s exports.
Reuters quoted Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan as saying: “We can least afford another round of strikes that will act as a destabilisation to the platinum sector, which has had increasing difficulties over the past 18 months.”
In anticipation of the disruption, the rand reached a fresh five-year low last week and analysts predicted it was likely to decline to R11 a dollar if a prolonged strike materialised.
By 5pm in Johannesburg the currency had strengthened to a bid price of R10.8358 to the dollar, a gain of 1.77c from the same time on Friday.
Platinum stocks rose on the JSE yesterday with Impala Platinum (Implats) increasing 1.12 percent to end at R121.40 and Lonmin rising 2.81 percent to R57.88. Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) added 0.69 percent to R408.60.
Mining houses have not yet given an indication of what contingency measures they will have in place if the strike goes ahead, though Amplats, Implats, Lonmin and Harmony have confirmed that Amcu issued them with 48-hour notices of its intention to strike.
Unconfirmed estimates are that a strike would cost mining houses up to R200 million a day in lost production and maintenance costs. The strike is reminiscent of the disastrous protests at Marikana in 2012, which culminated in the death of 34 miners at the hands of police in a single day.
At the media briefing yesterday, Amcu dissenters launched an attack on union president Joseph Mathunjwa. They threatened to quit the union and re-establish workers’ committees, which were influential in negotiating increases of up to 22 percent at Lonmin after the strike there in 2012.
“We are on our way out of Amcu. We are not going to form a new union, but we are going back to the workers’ committees that were behind organising the strike in 2012,” said Gaddafi Mdoda, an Amcu shop steward at Implats.
One of their grievances was that Mathunjwa had failed to deliver on his promise that there would be no retrenchments at Amplats last year.
“People will lose jobs because Mathunjwa likes to lead people to strike, but he has no power to reinstate them after they have been fired because of a strike,” Vuyo Maqanda, a shop steward at Implats, said.
Mathunjwa fingered the shop stewards for corruption during the union’s rally in Rustenburg on Sunday.
Wasp spokesman Memetlwe Sebei said the strike lacked a strategy: “The mining industry is prepared to settle the score. They want to put workers in their place. Unless we are prepared, this may be a disaster for workers.”
The chamber said the strike in the gold sector would be illegal because in terms of the two-year wage agreement signed in September last year between three of the four unions, a strike over conditions of employment during the course of the deal would be a contravention of the “peace clause”.
The chamber said it planned to approach the court for an interdict to prevent the strike. It would also ask the court to rule that Amcu would be responsible for any damage to property.
Amcu has been out of step with efforts to bring stability and peace to the sector. - Business Report