JOHANNESBURG – Gold mine Sibanye-Stillwater on Wednesday, suffered a setback in its attempt to have a protracted strike by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) declared unprotected by a court.

In a statement on Wednesday, the mineworkers union said it had filed papers with the Labour Court to appeal against an "error" contained in its December judgment which would have limited the scope of union membership verification.

Amcu members in the gold sector went on strike in November last year, after rejecting a three-year wage agreement signed by three rival unions and demanded a R1,000 annual pay increase for the next three years.

"Amcu believes that the outcome of the verification will be in their favour -- proving their true power. The verification process as ordered by the Labour Court has been suspended, pending the outcome of Amcu’s application for leave to appeal a paragraph of the Labour Court judgment. This comes as a result of an urgent application for leave to appeal lodged by Amcu earlier this morning. The basis of the appeal is to remedy a factual error in the wording of the judgment".

The mineworkers union argued that "the judge erred by stating that the membership figures as at 22 November 2018 were common cause, while in fact Amcu explicitly disputed this in their court papers. The significance of this error is that it might limit the scope of the verification process, and therefore seriously prejudice members’ constitutional right to strike. This means that the strike remains protected in terms of the Labour Relations Act".

Amcu claims Sibanye-Stillwater was trying to join forces with Amcu's opposition, the National Union Mineworkers (NUM) and two minority unions to extend the wage agreement. 

"On 13 December 2018, Sibanye-Stillwater issued a notice to Amcu claiming that the Union had fallen below a particular percentage, and therefore NUM, UASA and Solidarity together formed a majority, providing neither substantiating figures nor documents". 

Amcu turned to the courts and on December 21 last year Labour Court Judge Edwin Thlothlalemaje ruled that the figures provided by Sibanye-Stillwater could not be relied upon entirely.

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) was instructed to perform a membership verification at the workplace.

"However, at the first sitting of the verification process on 3 January 2019, Sibanye-Stillwater’s lawyers argued that the scope of the verification must be limited to the approximately 0.05 percent of employees who allegedly crossed the floor between 22 November 2018 and 13 December 2018. Amcu opposed this, and therefore the CCMA requested clarity from the Labour Court on the interpretation of the order."

On January 8, Thlothlalemaje found in favour of the interpretation of the mine, but Amcu appealed the order. The verification process has now been suspended pending the outcome of Amcu's appeal.

"As Amcu we are confident that our appeal will succeed, and that the Sibanye-Stillwater will be forced to be honest about our membership at their mines. For the first time in years, we will show that Amcu is the strongest union in gold".

African News Agency (ANA)