AMCU accuses mining company of ‘underhand tactics’ to end strike!

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AMCU members on strike outside the Labour Court in Johannesburg on Wednesday
AMCU members on strike outside the Labour Court in Johannesburg on Wednesday

THE ASSOCIATION of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) have blamed bosses at Sibanye-Stillwater of trying to interdict its protected strike, insisting the company has used underhand tactics to discredit the labour action from the outset.

This was as Sibanye on Tuesday filed an application at the Labour Court in Johannesburg for an interdict to prevent AMCU members from continuing with their strike which began exactly four weeks ago. Almost 15,000 workers affiliated to AMCU have been on a protected strike since 21 November at Sibanye’s gold operations in South Africa. The strike has been marked by violence and intimidation, and three people died and several were assaulted at the company’s Beatrix, Kloof and Driefontein mines.

At the same time AMCU continues to charge Sibanye with using ‘underhand tactics’ to end the strike. Sibanye currently employs approximately 32,200 people at its South African gold operations, with AMCU representing approximately 43 per cent of employees in the bargaining unit. AMCU members embarked on a strike demanding R1,000 increases in monthly wages, every year for the next three years.

Meanwhile, in a court, AMCU accused Sibanye senior management of recruiting members for rival unions in a bid to diminish the union’s bargaining power. Sibanye claims that AMCU no longer represents the majority of workers at its gold operations, saying that the National Union of Mineworkers, UASA and Solidarity now had a collective 49 per cent representation in the bargaining unit.

But AMCU’s legal counsel, Larry Dave of LDA Incorporated Attorneys – a boutique law firm specialising in labour and commercial law – questioned the authenticity of the audit results presented by Sibanye and opposed the application based on the way the management of Sibanye and the auditing firm they employed conducted the membership audit.

‘We cannot accept the numbers submitted in this court because the management failed to consult with AMCU when they were auditing the memberships of the unions,’ he said. ‘Sibanye recruited their own auditing firm and did not give AMCU the opportunity of presenting their own membership numbers.

‘The information submitted to the auditing firm came from the management of Sibanye and AMCU was not consulted during that process. Therefore, we cannot accept these results as authentic or credible.’

Judgement has been reserved and the strike will continue. AMCU members have declined to return to work after the mining company’s recent announcement that it had extended the wage deal it covertly signed with rival unions to all employees at its operations.

The three other unions in October signed a three-year wage agreement with Sibanye in respect of wages and conditions of service for the period July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2021. The agreement allows for increases to the basic wage of category 4-8 surface and underground employees of R700 per month in the first year, R700 per month in the second year, and R825 per month in the third year.

Miners, artisans and officials will receive increases of 5.5 per cent in year one and 5.5 per cent or CPI, or whichever is the greater, in years two and three of the agreement.

Elsewhere in South Africa, a union representing 7,000 paramedics has advised its members to carry firearms for protection whilst on duty following an increase in robberies and attacks against them.

Mpho Mpogeng, the president of the South African Emergency Personnel’s Union, said they believed that the carrying of firearms was necessary to keep union members safe following a spate of robberies and attacks on paramedics.

Mpogeng said the union had received at least 30 complaints from emergency workers who had been attacked while on duty in different provinces in the past six months. ‘We are not saying that workers must go out there and shoot people randomly, Mpogeng said. ‘We are saying they must carry licensed firearms to protect themselves and patients.’

He added that the latest incident had happened last week in the Eastern Cape, where a patient and paramedics were robbed of their belongings, including cellphones and money. ‘It’s really bad,’ he insisted. ‘People call for an ambulance, and when workers get there they are robbed. We believe carrying guns is our only option.’

About 66,525 emergency medical services workers including paramedics, ambulance assistants and emergency care technicians were registered with the Health Professions Council of SA by April this year. Chairperson for the union in Port Elizabeth Zinhle Ngqadu said two paramedics were attacked by armed men when they were attending to a cancer patient last week.

Ngqadu said the patient and the paramedics were robbed of their cellphones, jewellery and money. ‘I think it’s right for us to carry guns,’ he said, ‘because the department is not doing anything to protect us. We go out there to save lives but we are not protected,’ he said, adding that he also had been attacked while on duty in 2008 and 2010.

The City of Johannesburg’s Emergency Management Services says it is concerned about attacks on its paramedics‚ following two separate incidents. However the spokesperson for the national department of health, Popo Maja, said that though they understood the concerns of workers, they did not support workers arming themselves with guns.

He also added however that policing alone would not resolve the problem, noting that communities must stand up against criminals. The emergency care board within the Health Profession’s Council of South Africa also did not support the carrying of of guns by paramedics.

The board’s chairperson Lesiba Malotana, however, said that they were aware of the rampant attacks on workers and were working on a way to resolve the issue. One EMS crew was robbed at gunpoint while attending to a woman who had just given birth in Port Elizabeth in March. And in June, paramedics in Northam, Limpopo, were injured after they were attacked.

• SAFTU is also mourning the death of Zamile Booi in a road accident just recently.

It stated: ‘The South African Federation of Trade Unions is deeply saddened by the passing of Zamile Booi, in a road accident.

‘The federation dips its banners in honour of a dedicated workers’ representative who always placed his political principles before any personal interests and proved his commitment to fighting for his fellow workers and against corruption within unions, not only in words but in action.

‘Comrade Booi left his former union, the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) when its leaders were implicated in corruption. He joined the National Transport Movement (NTM) led by former SATAWU President Ephraim Mphahplele, but was dismayed when Mphahlele himself was then charged with corruption, was purging the NTM of members who questioned his leadership, including Booi, and seeking to disaffiliate the union from SAFTU.

‘He made it clear that Mphahlele no longer represented him or the members of NTM and left to join the Democratised Transport Logistics and Allied Workers Union (DETAWU) which he served until his sudden passing.

‘He was a member of the SAFTU Free State provincial co-ordinating committee and frequently represented the province at SAFTU’s national executive committee meetings.

‘He was a passionate lover of workers and supporter of their struggles, in which he always played a leading role. The working class are poorer without him, and his humble and thoughtful contributions to their struggles. His life will stand as an example to inspire others to follow the same revolutionary path. ‘SAFTU sends its deepest condolences to Comrade Zamile’s family, friends and comrades in the Free State and DETAWU.’