5 months ago, 70 000 workers downed tools on South Africa’s platinum mines. Critics considered their demand for R12 500 plus benefits to be absurd. Mining companies prophesied collapse. Strikers considered it a reasonable call for a minimum, livable wage.
It was a violent strike that affected world production as South Africa holds 80% of the metal that is prized for its resistance to corrosion, making it ideal for use in catalytic converters (a device that converts pollutants in motor vehicle exhaust gas), dentistry equipment, jewellery etc.
Yesterday, on June 23 2014, it was announced that the strike was over. The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) will sign the deal today.
On Reuters, an Amplats miner was quoted as saying, “I’m very glad the strike is over, because we made a terrible wound in the South African economy and we are happy to heal that wound. Our children are suffering because they had no food.”
South Africa’s sigh of release may be short. Some of those jubilant miners may soon be out of a job as mine owners restructure to cover losses incurred (AMCU’s demand for no retrenchments was not included in the speech given by their president, Joseph Mathunjwa, last night). And other unions, such as NUMSA, who threatened to strike in the auto industry, may be encouraged by the win of the miners.
It’s even debatable if the miner’s really won. After all, they were demanding more than double their current wage yet have only gained a 20% year on year increase (over the next 3 years) for unskilled and semiskilled labourers after losing 42% of one year’s earnings. There is some consolation in back pay, amounting to R1000p/m for the lowest paid worker which, depending on the mine involved, equates to R3000-6000. Skilled workers will only receive 7.5%-8% increase.
None should forget the Marikana Massacre of 44 people in 2012, some shot in the pack by the South African Police Service, at the mine owned by Lonmin. It was then that the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) lost power to AMCU. Without the latter, and the symbol of the massacre, it’s doubtful that the latest platinum strike could have lasted so long.
Damage to the producers of the metal (such as Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin) was estimated at R24billion.
For now, at least (and if the deal is signed today), ‘The Great Platinum Mine Strike’ is over and will make its mark in the history books.