Johannesburg, South Africa — 11 July 2012 – South Africa’s radical Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) claims it has gained representation of most workers at a mine that Aquarius Platinum is closing, and that it is willing to go to court to have it reopened.
Reuters reports that Aquarius – the world’s fourth-largest platinum producer – is the latest mining company for which the militant new union has claimed majority membership in at least one mine – a development that will not be welcomed in board rooms.
AMCU has been waging often violent turf battles for members with the dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), tapping into a deepening vein of discontent with the labour organisation, which is seen as too close to the ruling ANC political party.
Aquarius said in late June that it was placing its Everest mine on ‘care and maintenance’ pending better prices and improved industrial relations.
“We call on the board to withdraw their decision and reopen the mine,” AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa told a news conference here.
He said AMCU was now the majority union at the Everest Mine with 1,100 members out of the 1,600-strong workforce, and that Aquarius had violated labour laws by not consulting with it in a timely fashion over the Everest closure. He added that the union was willing to go to court over the issue.
South African labour legislation is often seen as union-friendly, but the AMCU’s prospects for success in court may not be great, because companies are careful to act within the law.
Aquarius officials could not immediately be reached for comment. The Everest mine accounted for 21% of the group’s production in 2011.
Mathunjwa accused management of closing the mine to avoid wage negotiations with AMCU.
“The basic salary is below a living wage. We have asked for an adjustment to get people to a living wage,” he stated.
Mathunjwa went on to say that independent verification of AMCU’s members with world No. 2 platinum producer Impala Platinum would begin next week.
Implats officials have signalled that they believe AMCU has around half of the 20,000 unionised workers at the company’s Rustenburg unit, the world’s largest platinum mine which was shut for six weeks earlier this year by labour unrest. AMCU claims it has about 15,000 members at Implats.
Officials at Lonmin, the third-largest producer of the precious metal, said last week that the AMCU now claimed about 5,000 members at its Karee mine.
South Africa is by far the world’s largest platinum producer, and the industry has been squeezed between rising labour, power and equipment costs and falling prices while demand is tepid for the metal.