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S.Africa’s largest platinum miner hit by protracted wage strike

Tens of thousand of mineworkers at South African platinum and gold mining giant Sibanye-Stillwater vowed Wednesday to push ahead with their wage demands during a strike that began nearly two months ago.

The workers are demanding an increase of 1,000 rands (US$63) per month, while their employer is only offering a rise of $54, saying anything more will have a substantial knock-on effect on the profitability of the company.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), representing almost 30,000 workers, declared a strike on March 9 after wage talks failed.

Since then, workers have been locked out from the mines and not paid, collectively losing more than a billion rand (US$63-million) in wages.

AMCU’s general secretary Jeff Mphahlele said workers would continue the strike until their demands were met.

“It is the workers who are in control, they tell us how they want to continue,” he told AFP, adding the employer had “displayed arrogance”.

When asked what the way forward is, Mphahlele replied: “For now they (workers) are saying we are sticking with the 1,000 rand.”

Mphahlele said workers were furious that their demands could not be met, yet last year the company paid its CEO, Neal Froneman, some 300-million-rand ($19-million) in salaries, bonuses and proceeds from a share scheme.

Sibanye-Stillwater spokesman James Wellsted said the unions had been “very rigid” during the negotiations with the company.

“We have now gone as far as we can. We think our offer is fair and takes into account inflationary increases,” he said.

“Anything higher than that will affect the sustainability of the operations,” Wellsted said, warning it could lead to job losses in a country reeling from a record 35 percent unemployment rate.

Further meetings are expected Thursday between the unions and the world’s largest platinum producer and South Africa’s second gold miner.

About a month ago the striking mineworkers requested an urgent intervention from President Cyril Ramaphosa.

When Ramaphosa went to address a May Day rally last Sunday in the northwestern mining town of Rustenburg, angry workers booed and chanted “Cyril must go”.

He was ushered away without delivering his speech.

The mining sector is a key but volatile sector of the South African economy.

This year marks the 10 year anniversary of the Marikana massacre where police killed 34 striking mineworkers and injured 78 others after the strike turned violent.

At that time workers demanded salaries of 12,500 ($790).