Amcu:

Finweek English Edition - - IN THE NEWS -

One of the lesser-known as­pects of gold in­dus­try recog­ni­tion agree­ments signed with the As­so­ci­a­tion of Minework­ers & Con­struc­tion Union (Amcu) last year was that they com­mit­ted the union to cen­tralised bar­gain­ing when wage ne­go­ti­a­tions rolled around.

That’s an im­por­tant obli­ga­tion for Amcu to meet be­cause the union has won mem­bers in the past by stay­ing out­side the sta­tus quo.

By f latly re­fus­ing to sit down with its ri­val, the Na­tional Union of Minework­ers (NUM), Amcu has been able to pub­licly demon­strate its dis­taste for a gov­ern­ment, which it con­tends has sold out to big busi­ness. “It has ac­knowl­edged that cen­tralised bar­gain­ing will take place at the cham­ber [of Mines],” said Jo­han Olivier, an as­so­ciate at at­tor­neys Web­ber Wentzel. “Amcu will be forced to par­tic­i­pate in the group.”

The other the­ory is that Amcu may yet at­tempt to ex­tract it­self from cen­tral bar­gain­ing if it be­comes large enough in the gold sec­tor to chal­lenge the recog­ni­tion agree­ments, a view that is con­sid­ered a pos­si­bil­ity by Olivier.

The ex­tent of Amcu sup­port among gold min­ers is some­thing of a thumb­suck at the mo­ment. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Stan­dard Bank Group Se­cu­ri­ties an­a­lyst Adrian Ham­mond in Jan­uary, Amcu could con­trol as much as 30% in the gold sec­tor.

“We think that the rise in Amcu’s membership for the next round of wage ne­go­ti­a­tions is likely to make it dif­fi­cult for the courts to ex­tend a col­lec­tive agree­ment be­tween ri­val unions and pro­duc­ers as was done last year,” said Ham­mond.

Of­fi­cially, Amcu’s gold in­dus­try membership is es­ti­mated to be about 24% from 13% two years ago, with Neal Frone­man, CEO of Sibanye Gold, and Gra­ham Briggs, his op­po­site num­ber at Har­mony Gold, be­liev­ing that the union will in­crease its pres­ence.

“Amcu has def­i­nitely been grow­ing, par­tic­u­larly in the West Rand in the Car­letonville area,” said Briggs on the side­lines of the Min­ing Ind­aba. “I don’t know all the num­bers from Sibanye Gold, but at Kusasalethu Amcu is def initely dom­i­nat­ing,” he said of t he com­pany’s West Rand op­er­a­tion.

Said Frone­man i n an i nter v iew with Finweek: “I wouldn’t say NUM’s mem­bers have l ost f a it h, but it ’s more a case of they don’t think Num rep­re­sents t heir i nter­ests as Amcu does which doesn’t have po­lit­ica l con­nec­tions.”

Num is cer­tainly feel­ing the pres­sure. It is thought that the hand­ing of mi­nor­ity recog­ni­tion to Amcu at Sibanye Gold’s Beatrix mine was the pri­mary cause of in­ter-union ri­valry which re­sulted in clashes and in­juries to nine em­ploy­ees ear­lier this month.

Frone­man com­mended both unions for the rel­a­tively quick res­o­lu­tion to the vi­o­lence (although the mine was shut down for t wo days at a cost of R23m to rev­enue), say i ng t hat it boded well for fu­ture deal­ings.

But a dom­i­nant Amcu in a gold in­dus­try that can­not sup­port ex­tended strikes in the man­ner of the plat­inum sec­tor last year is a po­ten­tial risk.

“The gold i ndustr y can’t af­ford lengthy drawn-out strikes. There need to be mech­a­nisms to re­solve f uture dis­putes early,” said Olivier.

The wor r y h a s e x t e n d e d to gov­ern­ment and demon­strated i n t he some­what strange ob­ser va­tion by the min­is­ter of min­eral re­sources Ngoako Ra­matl­hodi ear­lier this week that pow­ers to foist so-called ‘ in­ter­est ar­bi­tra­tion’ on a wage dis­pute should fall to the labour min­is­ter.

“That wasn’t made part of t he amended Labour Re­la­tions Act but it is be­ing talked about,” said Olivier.

Joseph Mathun­jwa, Amcu leader

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