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AMCU leader blasts mining bosses with Bible verses

Oct 01 2019 13:02
Lameez Omarjee

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union says it has not been able to reach a resolution with two major mining companies about wages, and has referred the matter to dispute resolution body the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.

The trade union's president, Joseph Mathunjwa, on Tuesday repeatedly turned to scripture as he updated the media in Johannesburg about ongoing platinum wage negotiations and the union's position on possible job cuts at Sibanye-Stillwater.

Last week the mining group, which recently acquired platinum producer Lonmin, announced that 5 270 jobs at its Marikana mine are at risk. Sibanye said it had found some of the operations it acquired from Lonmin could no longer continue as going concerns. Retrenchment consultations have already started.

During a strike in 2012, 34 Lonmin mineworkers were shot dead by police at Marikana.

AMCU had opposed the merger of the two mining companies, fearing job losses would result. The Competition Tribunal in November approved the R5.71bn deal, with certain conditions in respect of retrenchments and social labour plans. The union tried to appeal the decision, but the Competition Appeal Court in May 2019 dismissed its application.

Wage negotiations for the platinum sector have been ongoing for over three months. The union and three mining companies – Anglo Platinum, Impala Platinum and Sibanye – have been trying to strike a three-year wage deal since July. 

AMCU has taken the position that R17 000 is reasonable as a living wage, Mathunjwa said. He told journalists on Tuesday that the union has "exhausted the internal dispute resolution mechanism" with Anglo American and Sibanye-Stillwater, and the dispute will be referred to the CCMA. The union is set to meet with Impala Platinum later on Tuesday.

Mathunjwa also said he expects the dispute with Impala to end up at the CCMA. Quoting from the Christian Bible's Psalm 46 verse 10, he said mines must cooperate with the process.

"They [mining companies] must be still as they say, 'Be still and know I am God'. But this one [Sibanye] is not still.'" His comment was met with a chuckle from the crowd.

He is still optimistic that the CCMA could help settle the disputes to avoid a strike.

The leader also said the union is pleased with improvements in health and safety measures in the platinum sector. But he called out Sibanye for four deaths in the past four months. "Sibanye is a stumbling block," he said.

Sibanye spokesperson James Wellsted told Fin24 that there have been three fatalities this year, two of which happened at Marikana. Another death was not mine-related, but was health related. "We are focusing heavily on improving safety at Marikana," he said of the mining company's efforts to address health and safety concerns. 

Wellsted added that Sibanye's gold operations have been without fatalities for a year.

Pleading poverty

In his address to media, Mathunjwa further took aim at Sibanye for "pleading poverty" as a reason for the proposed retrenchments at Lonmin, saying this was "less than factual".

He again referred to the Bible, this time quoting the book of John, chapter 10 verse 10, which refers to a "thief who comes only to steal and kill and destroy". He likened mining companies to thieves who who have come to "kill, steal and destroy" from workers and the communities in which they operate.

By contrast, he likened unions to the son of God - mentioned in the same passage - coming "to give life" to workers and their families.

Mathunjwa claimed that former Lonmin CEO Ben Magara received a "golden handshake" when he left Lonmin.

"They used clever tricks to loot money, to show there is less profit," Mathunjwa said. "The new trick is to pay out dividends to shareholders before wage negotiations start to plead poverty. Remember John 10:10, the thief whose only intention is to steal, kill and destroy. The thief belongs in prison."

For its half-year results, Sibanye did not declare a dividend.                           

Mathunjwa also took a dig at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, alleging it is a one-sided platform targeting black leaders. He called for a separate commission of inquiry, for the period before 1994, so that mine bosses could account for looting minerals and other illicit financial flows.

"Stealing is stealing," he added.

Minerals belong to the people

During the briefing, Mathunjwa stressed that minerals belong to the people of South Africa and that the government is the custodian of the resources. However, he said, these have been held ransom by "a few people".

"Minerals belong to you and me. We have to benefit. We cannot be enslaved by mine bosses, while they are scooping millions," he said.

sibanye-stillwater  |  amcu  |  joseph mathunjwa  |  wage  |  platinum
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