Emerging AMCU mine union favours competitive coexistence

6th June 2012 By: Martin Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – The much-vilified emerging labour union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), says it is in favour of peaceful competitive coexistence with the dominant and long-standing National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and is totally opposed to union monopoly for itself or any other union.

AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa, who called a media conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday to counter what he called a baseless smear campaign against the union, accuses NUM of monopolistic tendencies and says that AMCU, in contrast, regards competition as being as healthy for labour as it is for business.

Mathunjwa complains that NUM behaves as if it has a “veto to represent the working class”.

“There’s no such thing. We have to coexist,” the 47-year-old preacher’s son from KwaZulu-Natal says (also see attached video interview).

AMCU believes in competition because it highlights any shortfalls that may exist and enables the union to improve.

Accompanied by AMCU national treasurer Jimmy Gama, general secretary Jeffrey Mphahlele and national organiser Dumisani Nkalitshane, Mathunjwa strongly denied allegations of the union engaging in violence and using unlawful tactics to gain access to workplaces.

AMCU, which has 50 000 members compared with NUM’s 300 000-plus, receives an estimated R700 000 a month in membership fees.

“We do not believe in violence,” Mathunjwa says, adding that the union preaches adherance to the rule of law, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, embracing in particular the right to freedom of association, as set out in chapter two of the Labour Relations Act, No 66 of 1995.

Platinum major Lonmin CEO Ian Farmer announced recently that his platinum mining company has agreed to confer limited organisational rights on AMCU in order to reflect its membership position within the London- and Johannesburg-listed group.

Mathunjwa tells Mining Weekly Online that AMCU now has office facilities, full-time shop stewards and other rights at Lonmin’s Karee mine, where he says that his union has 5 000 members, which makes it the majority union.

“In fact, all other operations of Lonmin are coming to join AMCU and nobody is intimidating or coercing them,” he adds.

Karee was the scene of last year’s illegal strike that led to 8 000 mineworkers being dismissed and then largely rehired, and it was through the dismissal and rehiring process that the NUM lost membership to AMCU.

At JSE-listed coal-mining company Keaton Energy, both AMCU and NUM participate in the company’s bargaining unit.

“In fact, AMCU is our majority union and we’ve found that it’s no different to any other union arrangement,” MD Paul Miller tells Mining Weekly Online.

It is also the majority union at an African Rainbow Minerals operation and is conducting recruitment drives at Anglo American Platinum and Gold Fields.

At BHP Billiton Energy Coal’s Witbank operation, AMCU has an agreement with the predominantly white United Association of South Africa union , which was struck in order to secure an organisational right.

However, AMCU has not been able to obtain a recognition agreement at the troubled Impala Platinum mine in Rustenburg, where it says it now claims to have 15 000 members.

It is at Impala that NUM has a closed-shop agreement, which AMCU decries as monopolistic.

It has thus referred the matter to the Council for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and is awaiting the set down date.

If it fails to obtain a recognition right at the CCMA, it will request a nonresolution right, which entitles it to embark on a legal, protected strike.

AMCU is currently also fighting Barberton Mines in the Labour Court for an organisational right.

Mathunjwa says that where AMCU has representation, it strives to make a difference in the lives of its members by negotiating better working conditions, including employee benefits, and it believes that it is more effective than NUM.

Where the two unions are in accord is in the call for the banning of the labour brokers, which Mathunjwa says results in mine workers earning less than R4 000 a month, which he bemoans as the average wage of mineworkers.

It is also most aggrieved at being cast as the villain in the many incidents that have surrounded this year’s prolonged strike at Impala, which it says has tarnished its name.

AMCU, which has opted for green apparel – “green represents life” – as opposed to NUM’s choice of red, says that it is apolitical and noncommunist.

It believes that the government should be allowed to implement its proposed youth wage subsidy and urges Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu to prevent further loss of lives from illegal mining.

A member of the Salvation Army, Mathunjwa is a trumpeter who prides himself on being able to read music “very well”.

He estimates AMCU’s running costs at about R500 000 a month and says that his leadership style is to be transparent.

As with NUM, AMCU’s membership fee is 1% of a member's pay.