File photo: Reuters

Johannesburg - The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) yesterday blamed Chamber of Mines chief negotiator Elize Strydom for sabotaging talks led by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) aimed at ending the seven-week wage strike at platinum mines.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said the union had objected to Strydom’s participation in the first place.

“It is due to her negative influence that we have not settled. Mining companies were prepared to submit a revised offer, but she convinced them to revert back to their original position because of the gold mine settlement with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM),” Mathunjwa said.

The chamber reached a two-year settlement in the gold sector last year. It settled on an 8 percent increase with NUM, Solidarity and Uasa.

Strydom was criticised after she told the Sunday Times, the country’s biggest weekend newspaper, that CCMA negotiators had little or no knowledge of mining and no economic acumen, and blamed them for the talks being bungled.

The CCMA suspended the platinum talks indefinitely last week, saying the parties were too far apart.

Amcu is the majority union in the platinum sector and is leading 70 000 members in their strike for an increase to the basic salary for underground workers from about R5 000 a month to R12 500.

Lonmin, Impala Platinum and Anglo American Platinum, where Amcu members downed tools on January 23 over the demand, said they could not afford the increase.

The dispute resolution body warned on Monday of the impact of comments on the talks, which could affect other industrial conflicts beyond the mining industry.

And Mathunjwa said: “We understand Strydom’s praise of the NUM, which shows that the NUM has graduated in the Strydom school of economic exploitation considering that 20 years down the line mineworkers are still earning R4 500.”

Chamber of Mines chief executive Bheki Sibiya stood by Strydom yesterday, saying the newspaper had published an off-the-record conversation and “regrets any embarrassment caused to the CCMA and its director and commissioners as a result”.

He described Strydom as an “expert in labour relations and a fearless, respected and fair negotiator who always acts in the best interest of her constituents and counterparts”.

Peter Attard Montalto, an emerging markets analyst at Nomura, said the brawl between the CCMA and the chamber was a reflection of tension around negotiations.

“It speaks to the complete inability of the CCMA to deal with structural wage shift demands as opposed to the normal rounds of increases, given the fact Amcu simply doesn’t negotiate like a normal union,” Attard Montalto said.

No new talks have been scheduled, according to Charmane Russell, a spokeswoman at Russell & Associates representing the Chamber of Mines.

“Talks may only resume once Amcu is willing to negotiate within a reasonable and sustainable settlement zone,” Russell told Bloomberg yesterday.