The Mining Strike: Amcu is set to pay the price

2014 has not been a good year for mines owned by Anglo American Platinum (Amplats). For much of the year the company has been embroiled in negotiations with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) over the union’s decision to strike. Now Amplats has decided to sell its most labour-intensive mines, believing it is time for a restructure at the top. Going forward, the mining conglomerate aims to mechanise the mining process, putting workers’ jobs at risk. Ironic in a year that looked like it might belong to the worker.

Is this a direct result of the Amcu strike, which resulted in its members downing their mining tools from January until June? It is hard to say. What is clear is that the Amcu strike orchestrated by the impassioned Joseph Mathunjwa failed in its bid to double workers’ salaries.

Indeed, Amcu leader Mathunjwa went to Amplats demanding remuneration of R12 500 a month for every worker, nearly doubling the existing salary in place. Negotiations went on, stalled, and finally ended when Amcu accepted the offer of a R2950 increase over the next three years, bringing the lowest-paid workers up to roughly R9000 a month by 2016-2017. Ironically, the union had previously rejected Amplats’ offer of a monthly salary of R12 500 starting in July 2017. Amcu wanted faster gains but ultimately ended up settling for less.

Now Anglo American Platinum has decided to sell its mines in the Rustenberg and Limpopo regions, divulging details of the sale as early as last month. The move has disappointed Amcu who believe that as the majority union they deserve to be consulted. Mathunjwa went on record saying he was “disappointed”, but would accept a buyer that ensured “job security” and favourable “working conditions”.

Mathunjwa believes it’s the time to nationalise the mines but realises he has no real remit of influence. Going forward, if the new buyer decides to downscale and largely mechanise the mines in the area Amcu would only have succeeded in losing its members thousands of jobs.

That, in essence, is the risk of a protracted strike –  it forces powerful conglomerates to take a hard-line stance of their own, one that almost always hurts the working individual.

Mining is an important cog in the South African economy and an upcoming meeting of government will discuss the issue, as reported in the Citizen on August 8th. The government has little influence on the private sector though. Mathunjwa would like to see this change, but the union is ultimately nothing but mouthpiece for the average worker. In this case, that mouthpiece has only succeeded in leaving its workers unpaid for the first-half of 2014 and at risk of their livelihoods going forward.