I wrote last week about the looming problems in South Africa’s platinum sector, with tough contract negotiations with unions coming up for mining companies in the world’s top-producing nation.
And it didn’t take long after that writing for labour issues to explode into action.
Last Friday, top platinum workers’ union AMCU announced a strike at the Kroondal mine operated by Sibanye Gold, with workers walking off the job over a slate of demands including worker benefits.
The strike quickly got complicated. Sibanye filed a court motion over the weekend claiming the strike was illegal — which was upheld by judges, who declared the labor action “unlawful”, effectively ordering AMCU miners back to work.
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AMCU officials held an internal meeting on Monday, and said they would indeed call off the strike, which means that the impacts from this action on production will be limited.
But the wider implications of this brief saga are important, as it suggests that South Africa’s platinum unions may be gearing up for tough negotiations with mining companies.
The fact that the AMCU carried out such an illegal strike suggests the group didn’t expect this to be a prolonged action. Union leaders certainly would have known they would be ordered back to work after they didn’t follow the protocols for declaring a legal strike.
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That suggests this action was meant as a “shot across the bow” for mining firms like Sibanye, signaling the union’s willingness to take drastic action as the two sides enter negotiations over pay and benefits.
AMCU officials said they will now meet with Sibanye representatives to start discussing demands. With these talks almost certain to be more tense following the events of the past weekend.
Watch for news on the progress of negotiations — and for possible additional strike action if unions don’t get what they want in terms of pay increases and other demands.
Here’s to taking action,
By Dave Forest
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Dave is Managing Geologist of the Pierce Points Daily E-Letter.