Frans Baleni, the general secretary for NUM, believes the platinum strike will end up harming all the unions. Photo: Matthews Baloyi

Johannesburg - The labour movement would be the ultimate loser from the four-month platinum strike, which could lead to lay-offs and new restrictive government rules, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said.

The wage strike by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) against three major platinum producers is already the longest in South Africa’s mining history. It has so far cost the industry over R19 billion in lost revenue and workers almost R8.5bn in lost wages.

“It’s going to weaken the unions because we are likely to see the numbers of workers reduced,” NUM general secretary Frans Baleni said.

“For example, companies are going to accelerate the move to mechanisation.”

When the strike finally ends and the dust has cleared, a painful restructuring, including job cuts, is widely expected.

Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) has signalled its intention to reduce its platinum operations, and the focus is on its Rustenburg mines.

The NUM has lost tens of thousands of members to Amcu in a brutal turf war that erupted in 2012. Baleni clearly has an axe to grind with the NUM rival, so his comments need to be read in this context.

But he did point to wider consequences of the current stoppage, saying they would hurt all unions.

“The Department of Labour has started investigations about what is to be done in the future because of this strike,” Baleni said, adding that this could include unspecified policy measures aimed at curbing the length of strikes.

Officials from the department could not immediately be reached for comment.

As a Cosatu affiliate, the NUM is a major political ally of the ANC, and the government has tended to pursue labour-friendly policies, such as making it difficult to fire workers and requiring companies to consult with unions for long periods before laying off staff.

The ANC won a 62 percent majority in this month’s election without the support of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA, another union ally in previous polls. The new administration may not feel so beholden to labour as it seeks ways to kick-start sluggish economic growth.

Baleni also reiterated his concerns about new tactics that had been developed by firms to fight the Amcu platinum strike, such as taking their wage offer directly to employees via text messages. – Reuters