File photo: Reuters

Johannesburg - As the platinum sector strike enters its second month, the mining companies have resorted to using a toll-free helpline and text messages to reach out directly to their employees.

Lonmin sent SMSes to employees explaining its wage offer and asked whether they were being intimidated from crossing picket lines due to the strike, as well as whether they would like to return to work, Bloomberg reported.

In the text messages, the company had provided a telephone number that employees could use to gain clarity on the strike, Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey said. “We established a call centre where employees can make anonymous calls in their mother tongue. The key themes are what the wage increase means and whether they can come back to work.”

Johan Theron, the spokesman at Impala Platinum (Implats), said platinum firms had used SMSes for some time, but the strike helpline was created for this particular strike. “On days when roads were blocked, it [the call rate] was quite high up to 2 000 a day, much lower now that people are on leave.”

About 19 percent of Implats’s non-striking employees were placed on paid leave by the company to avoid violence.

Jimmy Gama, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union’s (Amcu) national treasurer, said SMSes had been sent to workers for a long time.

Bloomberg reported that Eric Gcilitshana, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) health and safety secretary, said a text sent to workers instructed them to press 1 on their phones if they wanted the strike to continue and to press 2 if they wanted to go back to work.

Lonmin had also visited traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape, where many of the miners are from, to discuss the strike, he said.

Gcilitshana said there were rumours that employees wanted to accept the offer by platinum firms, but they were too scared. “Employees who live in informal settlements and hostels are at a disadvantage because there are high levels of intimidation.”

Gcilitshana noted that texting directly to employees defeated the worker to leader interaction between shop stewards and union members.

“The employers can use the information from employees to weaken the union in wage negotiations. The mandate can be challenged and employers can say the union leadership does not have support from members,” Gcilitshana said.

Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) had set up a plan where employees wanting to work are picked up at designated points and escorted to its operations, Mpumi Sithole, the company spokeswoman, said by e-mail. “Text messages are some of the channels the company uses to communicate with employees,” Sithole was cited as saying in a Bloomberg report.

Employers have tabled a three-year wage offer of between 9 percent and 7.5 percent, saying Amcu’s demand of R12 500 was unaffordable.

Amplats has taken to the courts to have 39 Amcu leaders arrested or jailed for contempt of court. It has also sued the union for R591 million for damage to property in the strike.

Employers and Amcu will meet today at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration as part of talks to end the strike. - Business Report