Fourth week of South African miners pay strike

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THE Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union (Amcu) yesterday served notice of its intention to strike from Wednesday at the facilities of Sibanye Gold following a mass meeting at the firm’s Driefontein mine, Eastern Cape province, on Sunday.

Amcu spokesman, Manzini Zungu said that the strike, by over 18,000 members was related to the union’s demand for a basic salary of R12,500 per month for entry level workers.

In October, Sibanye agreed with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Solidarity and UASA to increases of up to 12.5% in a three-year wage deal. The offer was rejected by Amcu, but as it is not the majority union, it has to accept the offer placed before all the other unions, according to a Labour Court ruling which was last week ratified by its appeal court.

Amcu speaks for about 40% of Sibanye’s 45,000 employees, but Zungu said that Amcu was, in fact, in the majority and that Sibanye had been slow to update union membership figures – a failure by the company that could be taken to court.

A pay strike by over 260 workers affiliated to Amcu at Glencore Wonderfontein Coal Mine in Mpumalanga, South Africa, has entered its fourth week. The strikers are demanding that their basic monthly salary be doubled from R4,000 to R8,000. They also want medical aid, transport and housing allowances.

One of the striking miners, Amcu member Richard Sengwana, a father of five children who has served the mine for 20 years, only takes home R5,000 per month. He said: ‘I earn peanuts after 20 years of experience. I was here when the new mine took over, but I earn less money. I have children and my daughter is in university and I still owe the university from the last academic year, she has rent to pay and I also have rent to pay.’

Amcu Mpumalanga Regional Secretary, John Sibiya, says efforts of negotiations with mining bosses have thus far been unsuccessful. We have tried to negotiate with the mine but they are refusing to take any of our offers. Some people have worked here for years but still earn less. This mine is owned by Cyril Ramaphosa but his employees are suffering.’

Meanwhile, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) labour federation has said it is ‘deeply disturbed by the City Of Johannesburg’s use of threats in response to the grievances raised by the Pikitup workers’.

A COSATU statement said: ‘The federation condemns the acts of vandalism perpetrated by some few unruly elements but fully supports the demands of the workers. The City Of Johannesburg is choosing an easy way out by trying to paint all workers as criminals and by also threatening them with disciplinary hearings and retrenchments. They are missing an opportunity to provide leadership and amicably resolving the issues raised by workers instead of delegitimising them.

‘We support the workers in their demand for R10,000 a month minimum wage and we also call on the municipality to listen to them, with regard to the issues surrounding Pikitup MD Amanda Nair.

‘She has proven to be a very polarising figure and her leadership style has resulted in the development of the existing antagonistic relations between the institution and the workers. The federation considers that the municipality’s approach to blindly defend her is not a prudent approach.

‘We call on the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration to help bring all the parties together and assist them find a workable solution to these issues because the disciplinary action is not a solution. The federation also finds it unacceptable that the municipality is prepared to spend R1 million a day hiring scab labour and security instead of sitting down with the workers and listening to their grievances.’

The call came at the weekend as the strike at the City of Johannesburg’s waste management entity Pikitup looks set to continue. Pikitup said on Friday that disciplinary processes against employees on an unprotected strike that were scheduled to conclude on Thursday had been delayed due to an alleged lack of union participation, while parties again failed to agree on returning to work pending further negotiations.

The unprotected strike by 4,000 members of the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) was in its fourth week last week, with Pikitup embarking on various contingency measures. The City of Johannesburg has bolstered protection, for strike-breakers and contracted workers.

The strike is the third stoppage since an agreement was struck in November between the union, Pikitup and the city to conduct a salary benchmarking exercise. While salaries are set through sectoral bargaining, the union cited salary disparities between city entities and demanded that members’ pay be increased to between R8,000 and R10,000 a month.

SAMWU and its officials are facing possible sanctions from the Labour Court, after allegedly failing to abide by multiple interdicts brought against the strike. Pikitup had instituted disciplinary proceedings against striking workers during a two-week unprotected strike in November. These were subsequently dropped after a political framework agreement was struck.

Pikitup said last Thursday that a meeting seeking to accelerate talks had not resulted in an agreement that parties would return to work pending an outcome. Three days of hearings were scheduled to conclude last Thursday, however, Pikitup said last Friday that delaying tactics from the union had frustrated the process.

SAMWU deputy regional chairman Vuyani Singozo said last Friday that the union had participated in the hearings, sending legal representatives ‘to put on record our concerns over the procedural fairness of the hearings’. The union had hoped to finalise matters during the meetings last Thursday, however, new issues had been put on the table, he said.

SAMWU was concerned the dispute was ‘becoming politicised’ rather than dealing with the issues around the labour dispute, Singozo said.

• While opposition parties, political commentators, civil society groups and ordinary South Africans continue to raise their displeasure at President Jacob Zuma and the African National Congress (ANC), one analyst says Zuma’s speech was a strategic move by the ANC.

Last Friday, the president addressed the country, saying he welcomes the Constitutional Court’s findings on the Nkandla saga, which found he broke the country’s Constitution by ignoring a ruling by the Public Prosecutor to pay back some of the $23 million of public funds spent on his private farm.

Zuma claimed he never intended to fail to comply with the remedial action proposed in the Public Protector’s report. The ANC said it appreciates his apology to the nation for the confusion and frustration caused by the Nkandla saga. Professor Sipho Seepe said Zuma’s apology was a strategic move by the ANC.

He said: ‘It doesn’t matter how much you try to spin this one, the damage is done and it has been done in a very profound way. And I’d even go further and say I wonder if it is the ANC that can save itself from itself.’

Anti-apartheid stalwart Ahmed Kathrada said he cannot continue to relate to a president who has been unanimously found to have failed to uphold and defend the Constitution. Kathrada has released what he calls an ‘agonising’ letter to Zuma, calling on Zuma to submit to the will of the people and resign. The ANC said it will not comment on a letter addressed to the presidency.

Kathrada said he has been left with no choice but to speak out against Zuma, saying only his resignation will help the country out of the current crisis, not an apology. Foundation director Neeshan Balton said the letter was sent to the president on Friday afternoon and the only reply was a note of receipt. Mr Kathrada was acting in the interest of the country and believes it will best for the country if the president can step down.’

Amid this, the ANC said it is willing to apologise to the nation following a Constitutional Court judgment that found Zuma to have acted in an inconsistent manner to the highest law of the land, but does not believe it is obliged to do so. The party has responded following the judgment last Thursday which found that Zuma and Parliament failed to uphold, respect and defend the Constitution through his handling of the Nkandla scandal.

The ANC has also come out in support of Zuma, saying it appreciates his apology and believes neither he nor Parliament intended to break their oaths. The party’s Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said the top six were unanimous in their response to the Constitutional Court’s judgment.

Mantashe said the ruling party is willing to apologise if there is a need to do so. The ANC is willing to offer an apology, if we’re called upon to do that, we’ll do it.’