Platinum Miners Union Fighting For Recognition

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THE Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) is facing lengthy delays in companies signing new recognition agreements with the union which has replaced the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) as the majority union in the platinum sector.

The official recognition process at Impala Platinum, has been stalled for nearly a year, after three failed court applications by the NUM to set aside Amcu’s recognition as the new majority union.

It’s a similar story at Lonmin and Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), where clashes erupted last Monday, February 18, when workers tried to evict NUM shop stewards from the premises.

In response to the incident, Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu called a meeting between the ANC government, unions and the Chamber of Mines the following day.

Last Thursday, the parties signed a framework agreement for peace and stability in the mining sector, but Amcu refused to sign.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said last Friday: ‘We agree with about 90 per cent of the agreement, but we had some proposals of our own which we wanted to submit.

‘One of these proposals is amnesty for workers who are being charged because of the tragedy that happened on the mines last year.

‘We submitted these to the ministry by midday yesterday, but by that time a press briefing had already been called and our submissions were not even considered.

‘If this is such an important agreement that will dictate the future of South Africa’s mining industry, why do you have to rush it like that?

‘Surely everyone’s submissions need to be considered.’

Last Thursday’s agreement includes a commitment not to carry or keep weapons on company property, that laws should be followed to resolve disputes, that all parties have access to their membership and constituencies and that all existing and future agreements and policies be honoured.

Union recognition agreements are applied so rigorously that Minister Shabangu refused to invite Amcu to an emergency industry meeting two days after the Marikana massacre last year, despite it having a majority of support among the striking workers, as a recognition agreement still stood with the NUM.

Amcu president Mathunjwa commented: ‘When we wanted to sit at the negotiation table last year everyone told us that we need 50% plus one to sit at the table.

‘So we worked hard for a year and now we have the majority membership everywhere, but all of a sudden now they are changing the rules.

‘Now they want all the unions to participate, or they want to bump up majority status to 70%.

‘All this talk about co-existing unions is just hogwash, it is double standards – the companies just do not want to let go of the NUM.’

Signing a majority union agreement with an employer brings exclusive bargaining rights.

A non-majority union also cannot receive membership fees deducted from workers’ salaries by the employers.

Nor can it appoint full-time shop stewards, who remain on the company’s payroll, before recognition agreements are finalised.

For Amcu, which has been the unofficial majority union at Impala since March, this means not receiving any fees from their thousands of members in Rustenburg, with monies being held in escrow until recognition is made official.

Mining companies are shying away from signing new majority deals that exclude COSATU-affiliated unions such as the NUM, and are finding themselves in a re-run of 2012, when their workers rejected the traditional negotiating channels through recognised unions.

Impala CEO Terence Goodlace said earlier this month that the NUM, with fewer members than ten per cent of the company’s workforce, remains an ‘important stakeholder’ at Impala as it represents a significant proportion of workers at the company’s refinery operations and a new labour framework will have to give it a seat at the negotiating table.

In a separate development, COSATU-affiliated Numsa is fighting huge increases in energy prices demanded by public electricity utility, Eskom.

A Numsa statement last Sunday said: ‘In the next 48-hours, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) will go the High Court on an urgent basis to seek an order that declares lawful the 18-hour picket that the union plans to hold from 18h00 on Wednesday 27 until 12.00 on Thursday 28 February outside the offices of the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) in in Kulawula House, 526 Madiba (former Vermeulen) Street, Arcadia in Pretoria.

‘Up to now, the South African Police Services (SAPS) and City of Tshwane Metropolitan Police Services have been unable to pronounce on the lawfulness of Numsa’s action outside Nersa offices, although the union has applied for a permit in terms of the Regulation of Gatherings Act (ROGA) No. 205 of 1993.

‘The picket outside Nersa offices is part of Numsa’s campaign against the Eskom’s application for a 16% average annual increase between 2013 and 2018. The picket on the 27 and 28 February will include an all-night candlelight vigil on the evening of the 27th and a morning protest action on the 28th of February.’

The statement added: ‘Since the beginning of the month, Numsa has been mobilising its members as well as members of allied organisations around Gauteng to attend the picket. The union plans to bus its shop stewards to Pretoria when they knock-off from work on Wednesday 27 February.

‘On Thursday 28 February, Nersa will announce whether it grants Eskom the 16% average annual increases over the next five years that the electricity utility has asked for.

‘According to law, it is Nersa that determines prices of electricity, piped-gas and petroleum.

‘Since January, Numsa has gone to all provincial public hearings that Nersa convened. We made oral presentations inside the hearings and picketed outside the venues where the hearings were held.

‘We made it clear that the proposed 16% increase will:

• lead to job losses and factory closures,

• lead to increases in food prices, transport costs and prices of other consumer goods.

‘Many other organisations, including employer associations have agreed with our objections to Eskom’s 16% application. The ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) agrees with us that a 16% increase is not good for the economy, for workers and for the poor.

‘With the public hearings over, the ball is now in the hands of Nersa. Numsa’s demands are clear:

• Nersa should not grant Eskom the 16% increase

• Eskom should be given an inflation-related increase which must be three years and not five years

• We must use the next three years to come up with an alternative model for funding electricity generation.

‘With all the evidence presented on how disastrous the electricity price hikes will be, as Numsa we call on Nersa regulators NOT to act as if they are Eskom shopstewards and only think about the electricity utility.

‘The regulators must think of workers, poor people and the country as a whole. This is the message that we are taking to Nersa. This is what the Electricity Pricing Policy requires.

‘Nersa was not established to look after the interests of Eskom but to balance the needs of the electricity supply industry and the country’s economic development.

‘For the last two weeks, Numsa has been negotiating without success with South African Police Services (SAPS) and City of Tshwane Metropolitan Police Services to grant Numsa a permit to protest outside Nersa offices.

‘Our negotiators with SAPS and the City of Tshwane have been sent from pillar to post.

‘As a union, we have been told that the action of the two days should be dealt separately with the City of Tshwane dealing with the picket on 28 February and SAPS dealing with the night vigil. We have also been told that Nersa offices fall under the apartheid legislation called the National Key Points Act 102 of 1980.

‘It is NUMSA’s belief that the fact that the action will occur over two days and that the first part of the protest will be held at night is irrelevant. As a union we are also angered by the fact that an old apartheid legislation that has not been amended is being revoked to deny our members their hard-won constitutional right to gather, assemble, picket and protest. . .

‘Numsa is of the opinion that the Act is vague and most probably unconstitutional. Just last week in the discussion in parliament on President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation (SONA) address, the Deputy-Minister of Public Works and Deputy-General Secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP) Jeremy Cronin agreed with the characterisation of the National Key Points Act as a “dastardly apartheid legislation”.

‘Cde Cronin stated that parliament needs “to look at this anachronistic and problematic piece of legislation”. He, like Numsa argued that the piece of legislation that is being used to deny our members the right to picket outside Nersa offices “may well be unconstitutional”.

‘As indicated above, the union will NOT fold its arms while the rights that we fought for so hard, such as our right to picket are being trampled on. Our lawyers are busy drafting papers with the intention to approach the High Court so as to receive an order that declares our action on 27-28 February lawful.

‘We are further taking the matter of constitutionality of the National Key Points Act to central executive committee (CEC) of Cosatu that starts tomorrow, Monday 25 February.

‘Numsa calls on its members not to be deterred by the actions of SAPS and the City of Tshwane. They must make their way to Nersa offices when they finish work on Wednesday 27 February. They must also negotiate for time-off for Thursday 28 February. Transport to Pretoria will leave Numsa local offices around Gauteng at 17h30.’