Johannesburg - Sibanye Gold chief executive Neal Froneman has thrown down the gauntlet at unions, charging that the industry would no longer tolerate strikes as a means to push it into making compromises during negotiations.
Froneman took a hard line against organised labour when he said Sibanye, South Africa’s biggest gold producer, would not be bullied into meeting what he called unsustainable demands.
He was addressing the 2016 Junior Indaba for explorers, developers and investors in junior mining, held in Johannesburg yesterday.
His comments came amid a wildcat strike led by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) at the Kroondal Operations in Rustenburg over a demand for transport to be provided.
Labour strife has been a thorny issue in the mining industry with the Marikana massacre in August 2012 and the five-month platinum belt strike in 2014 crippling investor confidence on the South African economy and its mining industry.
“We take a long-term view. Instead of being bullied to make decisions that are not sustainable, we would rather push back. I do not believe South African mine workers are under paid. They are well paid compared to those in the manufacturing industry. This gives us a platform to say no,” Froneman told delegates. “If people are not disciplined, there will be severe casualties.“
Sibanye took over Kroondal after acquiring Aquarius Platinum last year. Sibanye has also acquired Anglo American Platinum’s Rustenburg operations as part of a strategy to strengthen its portfolio.
The company in April agreed to pay a R25 monthly “stability premium” to be paid to all employees avert a strike led by Amcu as it believed industrial action was not in the interest of the company or the mining industry.
Sibanye spokesman James Wellsted said disciplinary action was under way and the company had not yet suspended any employees for the strike.
Amcu backed down on Friday after the Labour Court declared the strike over transport “unlawful and unprotected” and ruled that the union should not incite or encourage Kroondal employees to participate in an unprotected strike.
“After the court interdict on Friday, we had a low turn out on the Sunday night shift and Monday morning shift. There were also incidents of intimidation,” Wellsted said.
“Amcu told members to report to duty at 3pm on Monday, but we had high absenteeism. We will follow procedure. If they (workers) decided to ignore the interdict we will take action,” he added.
The strike was prompted by the breakdown of negotiations between Amcu and the company over the transport issue.
In previous agreements transport costs were part of the live out allowance but Amcu wanted more money on top of the living in allowance.
A task team comprising Amcu and management was studying the affordability of the additional transport money, Wellsted said.
But, in a statement this week, Amcu insisted that its strike was legal.
“Our members who embarked on a legal day-long strike at Anglo Platinum Mine (Aquarius), which was recently bought into by Sibanye at the Kroondal operations… has been suspended following the mine’s court application claiming our strike was illegal.
“We lawfully obtained the strike certificate on January 25, 2016. We timeously strived to engage the employer in efforts to resolve the matters that we had brought forward but those negotiations resulted in a deadlock.
“The interdict ruled that we discontinue with the strike and (ordered) our members to return to work accordingly. However, this does not mean that we will park our discussions regarding the demands.
“We will be going back to the labour court on (August 26) to resolve the matter and are meeting with Aquarius Mine management to continue discussing these pressing issues,” the union said.
Sibanye shares rose 1.22 percent to R45.55 yesterday.
* Additional reporting from ANA