21 March 2019
SUMMARY: The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has received judgment from the Labour Court on its earlier application to declare the extension agreement between Sibanye-Stillwater and a coalition of minority unions invalid. Although the application was not successful, the Court confirmed that there needs to be a membership verification to prove whether the minority unions together form a majority, in order for the extension to be of any force. AMCU reminds Sibanye-Stillwater that the minerals belong to the people, and that the very least workers deserve is their fair share.
AMCU yesterday attended the handing down of judgment on their application to declare the extension agreement struck between Sibanye-Stillwater, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Solidarity and UASA on 18 February 2019, as invalid.
AMCU’s case had two main legs, namely that an extension agreement can not be concluded at a date after the wage agreement was concluded, and secondly that, even if it did, AMCU was entitled strike for the period prior to the extension. These arguments did not gain traction with Judge Connie Prinsloo, and therefore she dismissed the application with no order as to costs.
Importantly though, she states in the judgment that “a verification exercise is necessary to determine the representativeness of the union coalition” at the time of the extension, for it to be of any force to AMCU. This means that the strike remains protected and members cannot be forced to return to work.
The extension agreement of 18 February 2019 was an attempt by Sibanye and the unions to rectify errors in their first extension agreement entered into on 13 December 2018. The latter was found to be open to “serious doubt” by Judge Tlhotlhalemaje on 21 December 2018. He ordered parties to conduct a membership verification under the auspices of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). However, this process was stifled when Sibanye wanted to limit the scope of the verification, and AMCU was subsequently left with no choice but to appeal that judgment. The appeal is yet to be heard.
AMCU has always welcomed a full verification of union membership at Sibanye-Stillwater, in order to establish reliable and trustworthy figures. It is crucial that the terms of reference of this verification allows for a complete physical verification of employees, as the figures provided by Sibanye-Stillwater remain suspicious. AMCU previously showed various anomalies in the statistics provided by Sibanye-Stillwater and the Labour Court confirmed that these figures are clothed in “serious doubt”.
In the meantime, AMCU is optimistic that the wage dispute can be resolved through the intervention of Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant. Under her guidance, the CCMA proposed a settlement agreement during a dispute resolution process in terms of section 150 of the Labour Relations Act. This process is designed to resolve disputes of public interest. On Friday (15 March 2019) AMCU obtained a mandate from members to indicate in-principle acceptance of the CCMA proposal, which includes a payment of R5 700. This is a considerable movement in the AMCU mandate which previously stood at R9 300.
The fact that AMCU members have accepted the CCMA proposal is a clear sign of their reasonable approach to their quest for economic emancipation. On the other hand, Sibanye’s failure to accept the CCMA proposal, shows their insistence to maintain the structural wage inequality set in place by the Chamber of Mines (now called the Minerals Council) under the rule of the colonial and apartheid regimes during the previous century. It shows that the undue power of the super-rich over the State is still prevalent today, and that Capital does not respect the institutions of the State.
AMCU reminds Sibanye-Stillwater that the minerals of our country belong to the people, and not to the affluent executives and board members of mining houses. They only have a licence to extract the minerals, and this must be done in a manner that shares the wealth with the people. Minerals are meant to serve the people.
Black mineworkers cannot be exploited for the benefit of millionaires in London and New York. The very least the workers deserve, is their fair share of the profits made from the minerals that belong to our people.