The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has maintained that there was no hostage situation despite police now investigating kidnapping and assault as more than 500 miners on Wednesday surfaced from Gold One’s Modder East Operations in Springs following three days underground.
Mine workers had been underground since Sunday, following a “sit-in protest” organised by AMCU, with some workers reportedly held underground against their will.
By Wednesday the situation became tense as concern grew about the well-being and safety of those underground, with initial reports indicating a hostage situation.
A Joint Operational Centre was set up by police, including hostage negotiators and the tactical response team.
Around 6am, 107 miners made their way to the surface. At the time they were checked by paramedics on site and then a few were interviewed and statements taken by the detectives on site.
Police spokesperson, Brenda Muridili said by 1pm, the SAPS had dissolved the Joint Operational Centre after the mine rescue team confirmed that 455 miners including the paramedics and a security officer were brought to the surface.
“Paramedics that were on the surface provided medical assistance and four injured men, including a security officer were taken to hospital for further medical treatment.
“The police have seized sticks and screw drivers which were found in the lift by mine security. The total number of miners including the security guard and paramedics is 562. The mine rescue team has confirmed that they have cleared the underground area. A case of kidnapping and assault will be registered for investigation. Police deployment will remain in the vicinity,” Muridili said.
According to AMCU there was no hostage situation.
“NUM members, who have joined us, participated in a sit-in, expressing discontent with how NUM conducts its affairs. The relationship with management is also problematic for our members. Section 26, a closed-shop arrangement between the company and NUM, prevents workers from choosing their affiliation. Every individual seeking employment is compelled to join NUM, effectively closing the door on other unions. Section 26 is not merely an agreement between the head office and the union; it requires active participation from the members through a ballot.
It should undergo testing and review every three years. The company did not do that,” AMCU general secretary, Jeff Mphahlele said.
He said the next step would be to initiate a petition against the closed shop agreement, indicating the collective rejection by members.
On successful elimination of this agreement, Mphahlele said the process of their recognition to represent workers must commence, compelling the company to engage with them.
NUM spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu said it was essential to clarify that NUM was the majority union, and there were no reports of members resigning.
“Currently, there is no verification process in place. AMCU must also speak about the section 21 organisational right that has been referred to the labour court. They want to be recognised as a company, the labour court is going to rule on that. Why would they hold our members hostage on the ground?
Some of our members, a group of 112, managed to overpower the ring leaders.
The first group had to force themselves out. They are saying ring leaders were heavily armed.
“The truth of the matter is NUM is the only recognised and majority union here. We are empowered by law to negotiate on behalf of our members.
AMCU is not a recognised union.
Why can’t they allow due processes of the law to take their course?
“Some members were injured, that is the sad situation. We called for police to arrest the ring leaders of the hostage situation ...they endangered the lives of our members,” Mammburu said.
Gold One head of legal Ziyaad Hassam said in 2012 a recognition agreement with NUM was signed.
This agreement designates NUM as the sole representative unit for all employees in categories A and B, totalling 1800 employees.
“About five months ago, we received an application from AMCU seeking organisational rights, but it was opposed by NUM. The matter escalated to the CCMA and the Labour court. Last week, the Labour court ruled against granting AMCU organisational rights due to the existing closed shop agreement between NUM and the company.
AMCU was instructed to apply through the CCMA to be included as a party to the closed-shop agreement, allowing a ballot to determine support.
“The threshold is 30%. They’ve been calling for a ballot under the incorrect process that’s why NUM was successful at the CCMA and Labour Court. They cannot call for a ballot while the closed-shop agreement is in place. They have to apply for entry into the closed-shop agreement first. Last week after they were unsuccessful at the CCMA they applied for notice to strike. We opposed and applied for an urgent interdict. We were successful and the Labour Court prohibited AMCU from going on strike. AMCU then staged a sit-in or hostage on Sunday evening with night shift employees.
We as well as SAPS are clear in our minds it was hostage, people were kept against their will. Paramedics and security went down and were not allowed to come back up.”
He said their immediate focus was on ensuring the safe exit of people.
“Moving forward, we will need to take stock of the repercussions for instigators and carefully consider how we navigate labour relations.
We want to embark on a process to see the number of workers AMCU say they have. This must be done in a legally sound manner. That’s something we’ve been committed to from the outset,” Hassam said.
Weighing in on the matter, Labour lawyer, Michael Bagraim said the employer needed to conduct a proper investigation because they have a duty of care to the employees, as workers were on duty on company premises.
“They have to get to the bottom of who has to be prosecuted and give people time off to recover with their families. They might also have to report this to the Compensation Fund because there’ll be claims, there’s going to be psychological scarring. It’s an injury that the employees have now suffered. If it comes out that the staff themselves were conducting a sit-in, get to the bottom of that and have a disciplinary action. It looks like a majority are moving across to Amcu because they are not happy with service from their current union.
It looks like the company is trying to retard the growth of AMCU. If people want to join another union, they can join but not by strike, not force.”