Stakes rise in platinum war

FILE PICTURE: A group of mine workers listen to their president Joseph Mathunjwa's address at Wonderkop stadium next to Lomin mine in Marikana outside Rustenburg, where AMCU union members where meet ing after downing their tools demanding an increase of R12500 a month salary. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

Major platinum producers involved in tough wage negotiations with Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) are keeping their legal options open following Amplats’ bold move to sue the trade union for damages caused by striking workers.

Lonmin and Impala Platinum said they would uphold their legal rights after accusations surfaced that Amcu members had damaged property and intimidated workers, preventing people from going to work.

Reuters reports the strike has so far had little impact on the platinum price that is selling about 2% below its levels on the eve of the industrial action.

This is partly because the mining industry is better prepared than in 2012. Implats and Amplats have said they have enough stockpiles to supply clients for six to eight weeks.

Sue Vey, Lonmin’s spokeswoman says the company obtained an interdict on Friday against Amcu’s failure to abide by the picketing rules.

Johan Theron, the group executive for corporate relations at Implats says the company sent most of its staff on paid leave to ensure the safety of its employees after dealing with a series of unlawful action from the union.

“We have legal rights, just like they have legal rights so the ball is in their court,” he says.

He says Implats is losing 2 800 ounces a day in production.

“Everything we do and everything they do influences the negotiations. If striking workers are blocking roads and intimidating people, that is unlawful and has an impact on negotiations and if companies decide to institute legal action then that will also have an impact in the negotiation process,” explains Theron.

Implats also obtained a court interdict with respect to intimidation, violence and picketing rules.

Theron says, so far, only minor property damages at Impala were reported which were a result of cars being stoned and burned and gates or fences broke down.

Amplats is suing the trade union for close to R600m in damages relating to threats of violence to prevent people from working, assaults on workers, damage to property, the failure to appoint strike marshals and Amcu’s alleged failure to take reasonable steps to ensure protests are peaceful.

Tony Healy, a labour consultant at Tony Healy and Associates says the Amplats case will be difficult to prove in court, but if Amplats wins then Amcu will be liquidated, deregistered and will not be able to anything under the law.

“Amplats has realised the situation cannot get any worse and this summons means that Amcu will be well guarded going forward because they will know not to run the risk of having three major summons against them… These were one of the few remaining options available,” says Healy.

“There is no doubt that this will have a sobering effect on Amcu and will radically modify their behaviour and conduct,” says Healy.

Laura Mseme of the CCMA says the legal action by Amplats will not affect the negotiation process which is facilitated by the body.

Amcu has convened a meeting of its leadership structures to consult and explore the way forward. Amcu has agreed to provide feedback to the CCMA mediators, says Mseme.

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