Amcu is the biggest union on the platinum belt.
Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said on Friday that the union believed that R17000 was the minimum amount that a worker needed as a basic salary. Monthly salaries could reach R30000 if benefits, including living out allowances and pension, were factored in, he said.
“It is a small price for the hard work and daily risks to life and limb our members face,” Mathunjwa said. Currently, entry-level employees earned R11500 a month.
Mathunjwa said the union had abandoned its “signature” R12500 monthly demand because it had been “eroded by inflation”.
Mineworkers had demanded a R12500 monthly wage during the 2012 unprotected strike that resulted in the Marikana massacre.
Mathunjwa said the mining houses could not plead poverty in the coming negotiations because, since 2016, the price of rhodium had risen by 300percent to $2645 (R39124) an ounce in February, and the price of palladium by 150percent to $1488 an ounce.
“We are really glad that it is going so well with platinum and it is high time that the bosses share their hyper-profits with the workers who toil every day,” said Mathunjwa.
Amcu represents more than 60000 mineworkers in the platinum industry in companies including Sibanye-Stillwater, Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum.
Sibanye-Stillwater spokesperson James Wellsted said the R17000 wage demand was impractical and unaffordable.
“From Sibanye-Stillwater’s perspective we cannot accede to unaffordable demands that threaten the sustainability of our operations, as this will negatively affect all stakeholders, particularly the communities and businesses in the Rustenburg region that rely on the mines,” said Wellsted.
He said the platinum price was at its lowest level since just after the global financial crisis, and it was only in the past eight months that the basket price, driven by palladium and rhodium and a weaker rand, had exceeded average industry costs.
“For years prior to this the industry has made significant losses and has had to curtail capital investment in order to survive, with many jobs having been lost as a result.”
With unavoidable cost pressures already coming from spiralling electricity costs from Eskom, excessive demands of this nature would threaten the future of the industry and with it many more jobs, he said.
Sibanye-Stillwater employs 90000 people following its merger with Lonmin. Amcu led a five-month strike at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold operation in April.
Wellsted said following the conclusion of the strike at the company the union had agreed that there was a need for a constructive working relationship.
“We hope that Amcu will honour its commitments and consider the long-term viability of the operations and employment in the region during the upcoming wage negotiations,” he said.
Analysts have said Amcu had lost support from its members following the strike at Sibanye-Stillwater.
René Hochreiter, a mining analyst at Noah Capital Markets, said the demand was unrealistic.
“Amcu is in total panic and losing members, otherwise why would they make such crazy demands?”