Strike damage to economy is ‘irreparable’
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Johannesburg - The chief executives of the three major platinum producers warned yesterday that the impact of the nine-week wage strike had reached the point of becoming “irreparable” to the economy, and noted an increased loss of revenue.
At the same time Cosatu in the North West called on the companies to provide a security plan for those miners who wanted to return to work and for their protection while they commuted between home and work at night.
“We are giving the employers from today, March 25, to produce that plan. If they fail to release the plan within seven days Cosatu, jointly with mass democratic movement structures, will be leading a march against those mining houses in the North West,” Solly Phetoe, Cosatu’s North West provincial secretary, said yesterday.
Chief executives Chris Griffith of Anglo American Platinum, Terence Goodlace of Impala Platinum and Ben Magara of Lonmin issued their joint statement ahead of tomorrow’s meeting of mining industry stakeholders to be convened by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe in Pretoria.
Motlanthe heads the government-led initiative to restore peace and stability in the mining sector. The forum was established last year but its efforts have yielded scant results amid a rise in unprotected strikes and violent incidents.
The crisis in the platinum belt has revealed cracks in the Labour Relations Act. For example, union leaders are not obliged to conduct a secret ballot among members before calling a strike.
The chief executives said the strike at the platinum majors called by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which started on January 23, threatened to stifle economic growth.
“The financial cost – now close to R10 billion in revenue lost and R4.4bn in earnings lost to employees – does not tell the full story.
“Mines are becoming unviable; people are hungry; children are not going to school; businesses are closing and crime in the platinum belt is increasing,” the chiefs said.
“The massive structural shift that Amcu appears to be seeking has consequences. Sadly, as the industry progresses towards greater mechanisation and higher skills levels, which are aligned with higher earnings and greater productivity, so the number of people employed in the industry will decrease.”
Jimmy Gama, the national treasurer at Amcu, insisted that the strike in support of its demand for a R12 500 basic minimum wage for underground employees would continue despite the concerns of the mining executives.
“We receive our mandate from our members and not from chief executives, nor from Cosatu. The length of the strike is immaterial; what is important is the cause members are fighting for.
“The bosses have talked about retrenchments long before the strike commenced. If they want to end the strike, they must bring a revised offer to the table.”
Wage talks between the big three platinum producers and Amcu collapsed three weeks ago when the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration suspended the negotiations indefinitely as the parties remained far apart.
Trade union Solidarity said it had sent a letter to the four largest commercial banks asking them to show understanding for the financial difficulties non-striking employees found themselves in.