Precious metals miner Sibanye-Stillwater on Wednesday advised that the Labour Court has declared legal the extension of Sibanye’s wage agreement with the National Union of mineworkers (NUM), Uasa and Solidarity, to non-unionised members.
In December Sibanye extended the wage agreement to non-unionised members in an effort to end the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) strike at the miner’s gold operations, which started on November 21.
The Labour Relations Act provides for the wage agreement to be extended to and bind all other employees to the collective agreement, should the collective membership of, in this case, the NUM, Uasa and Solidarity make up more than 50% of employees as the South African gold operations.
Sibanye investor relations head James Wellsted told Mining Weekly Online that the company has embarked on an independent verification process to confirm the various unions’ level of representation, which is required to implement the extension agreement.
He was “fairly confident” that the members of the NUM, Uasa and Solidarity would be found to be more than that of AMCU, rendering AMCU’s strike unprotected.
Meanwhile, AMCU had on Tuesday released a statement that it, in principle, accepted a proposed settlement agreement made by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), in an attempt to resolve the wage dispute.
The CCMA proposed a payment of R5 700, coupled with other benefits as contained in a previous settlement agreement. These include a salary advance of R5 000, debt consolidation, nondeductions of employer contributions to benefits, death benefits of employees who passed on during the strike, as well as disciplinary issues.
While AMCU members previously indicated their acceptance of the other issues covered, up to now they had insisted on a payment of R9 300. There was further engagement due with Sibanye on the implementation and method of payment, as well as the issue of back-pay.
Wellsted confirmed, however, that Sibanye would not be taking the CCMA proposal into account, saying AMCU had submitted additional demands to Sibanye.
“AMCU did not accept the proposal as is, they added additional demands for us to entertain further. As a result, even the CCMA said there was no point continuing with the process, as the parties are too far apart. What they ‘accepted’ was not proposed by the CCMA.”
He added that Sibanye will continue discussions with AMCU and the CCMA as necessary, and that the membership verification exercise will be prioritised.
The wage agreement signed with the three unions is valid from July 2018 to June 2021, and allows for increases to the basic wage of Category 4 to 8 surface and underground employees of R700 a month in the first year, R700 a month in the second year and R825 a month in the third year.
Miners, artisans and officials will receive increases of 5.5% in the first year and 5.5% or consumer price index – whichever is higher – in the second and third years.
Gold sector wage negotiations started in July.
Amid the strike, AMCU had attempted to extend the strike into the platinum industry, creating an industry-wide “sympathy” strike. However, the Labour Court earlier this month rejected AMCU’s request.
AMCU had wanted to extend the strike to at least 11 other mining firms.
Law firm Webber Wentzel on Wednesday said it had assisted several mining houses in successfully obtaining interdicts declaring the secondary strikes to be unprotected.
The interdicts had helped to avoid potential financial losses in excess of R2-billion, it pointed out.
“This is the first time that the Labour Court considered a campaign of secondary strikes called for by a trade union across a particular industry and an important precedent setting matter which considers the reasonableness requirement set out in the Labour Relations Act.”
The firm further explained that this matter was unique in that AMCU had called for a campaign of secondary strike action across the mining industry. In other words, AMCU sought to group together a collection of secondary employers and argued that a combined campaign of secondary strike action would have the effect they desired upon Sibanye.
“The judge accepted that a secondary strike may be called to offer emotional support and apply socioeconomic pressure on the primary employer. However, this cannot be the sole purpose of a secondary strike.
“It has to be shown that the secondary strike is capable of impacting on the business of the primary employer and the collective bargaining process. In this matter, the court said the affected mining houses are in no position to influence Sibanye to accept AMCU's demands (which form the basis of the primary strike).
“The court also found that the impact of each secondary strike had to be evaluated individually and that our law did not provide for an assessment of the cumulative impact of the secondary strikes on Sibanye. The court held that the enquiry into reasonableness of a secondary strike does not permit the grouping together of a collection of secondary employers within an industry. Each secondary employer would be deprived of the protection afforded by the Act if this was permitted.”