The President of the Mining and Civil Construction Association, Joseph Mathunjwa, addresses members of the Rugby Impala camps on January 16, 2019 in Rustenburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Thapelo Morebudi)
The strike by the Miners 'Association and the Union of Construction in the Sibanye-Stillwater gold mines, the country's largest remaining mines, was destined to solidify its place in the industry as opposed to the National Miners' Union. In fact, it weakened the union and gave its competitors a peculiar kind of victory.
Amcu agreed to end its five-month strike at the Sibanye-Stillwater gold mines, accepting essentially the same agreement that members of the National Miners Union accepted months ago.
Amcu members will receive a symbolic payment of R4,000 for each of its 14,000 striking members, and a flexible loan of R5,000 to be paid in 12 months.
This face saving device will not fool anyone. The strike was to be Amcu's push into the gold industry after shutting down the platinum sector. But instead, the duration of the strike, the divided nature of labor union affiliations, some extravagant legal work of the administration, and the state of the industry all worked against the union.
Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa told a news conference on Wednesday that there was no political pressure for the union to sign an agreement with Sibanye.
"The decision was based solely on the status and mandate of our members whom we serve, "he said.
In the end, the deal is a disgraceful defeat for Amcu and his members who lost five months of salary and received very little in return. Still, the union will argue, this is just a tactical retreat.
Sibanye CEO Neal Froneman was underestimated in his response.
"We are pleased that the extensive strike in our gold operations has ended, without harming other stakeholders or jeopardizing their rights, "Froneman said.
But for the company, the end of the strike is a remarkable victory. Froneman argued from the start of the strike that as the company closed an agreement with three other unions at its gold mines in November, it was barred from agreeing to different terms with a different union.
Amcu did not really have an answer to Froneman's argument, since if he won extra concessions, he would be satisfying his existing members at the expense of his potential membership.
On the factory floor, this was recognized and gradually led the members to move away from Amcu to NUM. Ultimately, the company was able to argue that the majority of the workforce had accepted the terms of the contract, and the company was about to take the case to court to declare the strike unprotected.
Although the company has won this round, it was an expensive win. Production has dropped and now estimates losses of about R $ 1.5 billion. Production at most of the mines was paired but continued, which was another notable achievement for the company as it reduced the pressure to settle.
It was also expensive in human life. Nine people were killed and more than 60 homes of NUM supporters were burned in areas around Carletonville, where Sibanye has two of its three gold mines.
Settlement has another important consequence. Both sides pointed to the upcoming wage negotiations in the platinum sector. Mathunjwa said the deal meant that such talks would be "more constructive."
By reading between the lines, the comments suggest that the company could quietly argue that the benefits they could not provide to Amcu members in the gold industry could provide to their members in the platinum sector, which is their most crucial basis anyway.
But this is a fight that still needs to be fought. DM
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