Echoes of Marikana as Sibanye strike drags on

Fears of more vi­o­lence af­ter three minework­ers killed

Sunday Times - - Business Times - By PENE­LOPE MASHEGO and MUDIWA GAVAZA mashe­[email protected]­ [email protected]­day­

● The buzz of a drone was for a mo­ment the only thing that si­lenced about 2,000 As­so­ci­a­tion of Minework­ers & Con­struc­tion Union (Amcu) members gath­ered this week on a hill over­look­ing Sibanye-Still­wa­ter’s op­er­a­tions in Drie­fontein, Car­letonville.

The drone, be­long­ing to Sibanye, was keep­ing tabs on the crowd that be­gan pro­tracted strike ac­tion on Novem­ber 21.

On Thurs­day af­ter­noon Amcu members braved the heat as lead­ers up­dated them on salary ne­go­ti­a­tions. In a move echo­ing Marikana, strik­ers sat on the kop­pie armed with spears, sticks and sjam­boks.

Amcu lead­ers ex­plained to them that the union was not back­ing down from its de­mand for a monthly salary of R12,500. “May­ibuye! Imali!” they chanted, adapt­ing an anti-apartheid slo­gan from “Bring back Africa” to “Bring the money”.

Amcu lead­ers urged work­ers to not in­tim­i­date oth­ers into join­ing the strike. Three work­ers have died since the strike be­gan.

James Well­sted, head of in­vestor re­la­tions at Sibanye, said the drone was to ensure vi­o­lence did not erupt where min­ers had gath­ered.

Asked how much the strike had cost Sibanye, Well­sted said: “We haven’t yet given those num­bers be­cause there’s been quite a lot of vari­abil­ity.” In some op­er­a­tions, some staff were work­ing and in oth­ers, be­cause of in­tim­i­da­tion, there was a lower turnout.

Ac­cord­ing to Sibanye, strik­ing en­try-level minework­ers have al­ready lost on av­er­age R9,000.

How­ever, the costs will be rack­ing up. At com­peti­tor Gold Fields the loss in rev­enue is es­ti­mated at R314m since the Na­tional Union of Minework­ers (NUM) ini­ti­ated a strike at its South Deep mine last month. It is es­ti­mated work­ers have lost about R98m in wages.

Sibanye has been on an ex­pen­sive buy­ing spree. Its R5bn ac­qui­si­tion of Lon­min, re­cently ap­proved by the Com­pe­ti­tion Tri­bunal, will make it the world’s sec­ond­biggest plat­inum pro­ducer.

Listed in 2013, the com­pany ac­quired the Rusten­burg op­er­a­tions from An­glo Amer­i­can and Zim­babwe-based Aquar­ius Plat­inum in 2016 and US-based Still­wa­ter in 2017.

Among Sibanye’s gold-min­ing work­force, Amcu rep­re­sents 43% of employees, while NUM, Uasa and Sol­i­dar­ity rep­re­sent 49%. This re­sulted in a dead­lock in ne­go­ti­a­tions. Sibanye struck a deal with NUM, Uasa and Sol­i­dar­ity for a R700-a-month in­crease in the first and sec­ond years and R825 in the third year of a three-year wage deal.

But Tshepo Mot­loi, Amcu’s Gaut­eng re­gional sec­re­tary said: “As you know, the ma­jor­ity rules, so the predica­ment that this com­pany is find­ing it­self in is that there is no ma­jor­ity union.”

Livhuwani Mamm­buru, NUM na­tional spokesper­son, slammed ac­cu­sa­tions by Amcu that NUM was sid­ing with man­age­ment in ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“Those are lies … these ne­go­ti­a­tions were ex­tremely dif­fi­cult, until our members gave us an op­por­tu­nity to sign.”

SA’s min­ing in­dus­try faces the chal­lenges of high costs, power cuts and low global com­mod­ity prices, all while the life of many mines is ap­proach­ing the end. Stats SA’s GDP data re­leased this week show the min­ing sec­tor con­tracted 8.8% in the third quar­ter.

Mot­loi said minework­ers were say­ing they were not go­ing to end the strike until they got a rea­son­able of­fer on the ta­ble.

“A sim­ple ex­am­ple: a loaf of bread costs R15 or R16. If you mul­ti­ply that, two loaves a day for 30 to 31 days it gets you to R900 and some­thing. So how can you then sign an agree­ment that is lower than that?”

Mot­loi said work­ers were will­ing to for­feit their De­cem­ber pay and bonuses to get what they felt they de­served.

Mthandazo Makhubalo, a Sibanye mineworker since 2008, said his salary started at R2,900 a month in 2008 and slowly in­creased to R8,000 with a liv­ing-out al­lowance and R6,000 with­out the al­lowance.

“What I would like to say to man­age­ment is can we please have more money?”

Health and safety con­cerns have also been raised by the unions, cit­ing long work­ing hours, poor med­i­cal aid ben­e­fits and tough work­ing con­di­tions.

Twenty-three min­ers have died this year at Sibanye mines.

The ma­jor­ity rules, so the predica­ment that this com­pany is find­ing it­self in is that there is no ma­jor­ity union

Tshepo Mot­loi

Amcu Gaut­eng re­gional sec­re­tary

Pic­ture: Alais­ter Rus­sell

Amcu members who work for Sibanye-Still­wa­ter gather for a strike up­date on a kop­pie near a gold mine in Car­letonville, west of Jo­han­nes­burg.

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