Lonmin has given its strongest indication yet of its intent to fire more than 3000 striking mineworkers after the company this week obtained a final Labour Court order declaring the strike unprotected.
This despite the current peace process under way to resolve the weeks-long wage dispute that has led to the deaths of at least 45 people since a strike by Lonmin mineworkers began last month.
Yesterday, mediator and president of the SA Council of Churches Bishop Joe Seoka reacted with shock to the news that the company had obtained the final order.
“This means they are negotiating in bad faith,” he said. “They never told us that they had gone to court. It is unfortunate that the company has done that and it will be intimidation to the workers. Things like this will make the situation worse.”
Workers downed tools more than four weeks ago, demanding a salary increase.
They wanted to be paid R12 500 a month. The first wage offer – a R986 increase across the board – was rejected by the workers earlier yesterday.
Yesterday also saw the often-criticised government announce stricter measures to ensure the return to stability in the area – with a vow to crack down on “illegal gatherings, carrying of dangerous weapons, incitement” and “threats of violence”.
The mediation process came as a result of peace accord signed by Lonmin and some workers’ unions before CCMA facilitators.
The Labour Court order declares the strike by more than 3000 workers – most of them rock drillers – unprotected in terms of the Labour Relations Act and interdicts the workers from participating in it.
It further prohibits the workers from restricting any person from going to work as the wildcat strike entered its sixth week.
And by getting the court to confirm the order as final, according to one labour law expert who wished not to be named, Lonmin could now have legal grounds to dismiss the mineworkers if they fail to return to work.
“Basically the confirmation of a rule nisi – an interim order – by the court means that the order is final and the employer can take action against workers who fail to comply without any legal implications,” said the attorney.
Acting Labour Court Judge Anton Myburgh confirmed the interim order, making it final, against striking miners, the unions NUM and Amcu in Marikana this week after it was initially granted by Judge Edwin Molahlehi last month.
Judge Molahlehi had called upon the workers and the unions to appear and show cause by Thursday why the order should not be granted.
Lonmin spokesman Barnard Mokwena said yesterday the mine was not going to put the order into effect to give the peace process a chance.
“We needed to go back to court for obvious legal process reasons because the interim order we got when we first issued an ultimatum had expired.
“We have not as yet exercised our full labour relations rights as a company to fire workers who are on illegal strike, however it is important that we retain those rights so, if necessary, we can still exercise them.”
In its application first filed with the Labour Court last month, Lonmin warned that it “will be left with little, if any, alternative but to proceed with a mass dismissal” of striking workers, the consequences of which the company said were undesirable.
“The granting of the order will have little adverse consequences for the [workers] because in any event they will only be compelled to do what they are required to do in terms of the Labour Relations Act,” Lonmin argued in court papers.
The company also noted the costs which it would incur to train employees to replace the dismissed strikers would be significant. According to the court papers, Lonmin, through its Karee Mine, had lost over R19 million in revenue by August 10, when the strike started.
The mine said it had at all times sought to avoid the need for seeking relief through the courts but it was left with little, if any, alternative in view of the fact that its production is retarded and the company has been unsuccessful in persuading workers to desist from strike action.
In his founding affidavit, senior manager of mining optimisation at Karee, Eastern and Western Platinum mines of Lonmin, Helgaard Prinsloo, said the workers were already due to receive a 8 to 10% wage increase next month.
He said the strike was costing the company irreparable harm with significant loss of millions of rand in revenue per day. “In view of the drop in price [of platinum] and demand, it is essential that the company does not suffer additional extensive losses through unnecessary and unlawful strike action,” he said.
Amcu general secretary Jeff Mphahlele said the union was not aware of the court order. -Saturday Star