The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) on Friday announced that it would seek a monthly basic wage of R17 000 for its members when platinum wage discussions get under way later this month.
The union represents about 60 000 members in the South African platinum sector.
Speaking at a briefing in Johannesburg, AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa told media that the union had conducted a feasibility study and was confident that the demand tabled would address pressures brought on by the increased cost of living for workers.
“We believe that R17 000 is the minimum amount that a worker needs as a basic salary,” he said.
The increase is about 48% higher than the R12 500 the union has been demanding since 2012.
“It is a small price for the hard work and daily risks to life and limb our members face,” Mathunjwa said.
He anticipates four sittings to be enough for all stakeholders to reach an agreement.
The lowest paid worker that AMCU represents in the platinum sector currently earns around R11 500.
Precious metals miner Sibanye-Stillwater told Mining Weekly Online in an emailed response to questions about the upcoming wage negotiations that the demands tabled by AMCU were “impractical and unaffordable”.
Claims that the platinum group metals industry had been experiencing a boom in recent years were "fallacious", it added, noting that the platinum price was at its lowest since just after the global financial crisis in 2008/9.
“It is only in the last eight months that the basket price, driven by palladium and rhodium and a weaker rand, has exceeded average industry costs,” Sibanye said.
It explained that for years prior to this, the industry had incurred significant losses and had to curtail capital investment in order to survive, with many jobs having been lost as a result.
“With unavoidable cost pressures already coming from spiralling electricity costs from Eskom, excessive demands of this nature will threaten the future of the industry and with it many more jobs.”
Sibanye said it could not accede to "unaffordable" demands that threatened the sustainability of its operations as that would negatively affect all stakeholders, particularly the communities and businesses in the Rustenburg region that rely on the mines.
“Following the conclusion of the five-month strike at our gold operations in April, AMCU, along with the company, acknowledged that it is in everyone’s interests to rebase and develop a constructive relationship going forward. The parties agree that, in acknowledgement of the need for a constructive working relationship, they will foster a safe and sustainable business that creates value for all stakeholders.”
Sibanye said it was hopeful that AMCU would honour its commitments and consider the long-term viability of the operations and employment in the region during the upcoming wage negotiations.
Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) spokesperson Jana Marais, meanwhile, told Mining Weekly Online that the company expected "another tough round of negotiations".
She added that Amplats employees’ disposable income had been under increasing pressure in a difficult economy, while the platinum mining industry also continued to face significant challenges. "Our aim is to ensure Amplats remains competitive and sustainable in order to protect and create jobs, while our employees remain among the best paid industrial workers in South Africa."
Impala Platinum (Implats) investor relations and corporate communications head Alice Lourens said that while "it is always a challenge to envisage a sustainable resolution between union wage demands and business affordability", Implats remained confident that a mutually beneficial resolution would be secured as was achieved previously when AMCU originally demanded a R12 500 basic wage.
She added that the industry was "still in a precarious position" despite recent improved palladium and rhodium prices. "Our principal focus as we continue with the restructuring of Impala Rustenburg, will be to secure the best possible wage dispensation while preserving jobs. Our strategy is always to be open and honest in our efforts to secure a fair and sustainable resolution".
Meanwhile, the union said during its briefing that it had handed written submissions to the labour registrar on Thursday following the registrar’s accusation that it had not complied with the constitution and had violated its own rules by not holding a national congress.
“We tabled our arguments and presented evidence of our compliance with our constitution,” Mathunjwa said, adding that AMCU had submitted “comprehensive evidence”.
Following the outcome of this, the union remained hopeful that the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy would let it continue with the preparations for its national congress, which is to be held from September 18 to 20.
Moreover, commenting on the merger between Sibanye-Stillwater and Lonmin, Mathunjwa said that, with the merger having been implemented as of June 10, AMCU “will ensure that the rights of our members remain intact during the process”.