South African Coal Miners Reach Agreement Avoiding Work Stoppage

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Abayomi Azikiwe Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Anglo American settles landmark case with injured workers

 

By Abayomi Azikiwe

Editor, Pan-African News Wire

 

Labor militancy through strikes, mass demonstrations and legal claims are continuing in the Republic of South Africa which has the largest industrial working class on the continent.

 

Recently some 20,000 coal miners were involved in an intense standoff with their bosses demanding pay increases and better working conditions. The workers are represented by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the largest labor organization within the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).

 

Negotiations between NUM and the coal mining firms including Anglo American and Glencore Xstrata continued on September 30 where offers of pay increase between 7 and 11 percent were designed to avoid a strike. A strike would have impacted the domestic energy industry along with coal supplies to Europe and Asia.

 

NUM was demanding a 15 percent wage increase for veteran workers and 60 percent for entry-level employees. Coal miners have been able so far to avoid the violence that has marked other extractive industries since 2012 when a wave of strikes swept the nation.

 

Eskom, the South African energy company, relies on coal production for 85 percent of its power source. Overall the country produces 68.3 million tons of coal for export from the Richards Bay Coal Terminal.

 

South Africa is the world?s fifth largest producer of coal. This sector along with gold, platinum and iron ore constitutes the bulk of the gross domestic product for the country.

 

According to NUM Secretary General Frans Baleni, ?we have reached an agreement.? The settlement is similar to that achieved by workers in other sectors of mining.

 

The agreement reached by NUM in the coal mining sector of between 7 and 11 percent raises are above the rate of inflation now at 6.4 percent.

 

AMCU Walks Out in Rustenburg

 

In the Rustenburg area where violence resulted in the deaths of over 50 miners, police and security personnel during 2012, the dominant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) led their constituents in a strike that began on September 27. At present AMCU has achieved a majority status within the area among the miners becoming the principal representative outstripping the NUM.

 

Rivalry between NUM and AMCU has been a source of struggle in the Northwest province. AMCU leadership rejected the 8 percent pay hike won by NUM in the mining areas in other regions of the country and embarked upon a separate strike.

 

Another major issue in the Rustenburg strike is the announcement by management that 3,300 jobs would be loss in the Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) mines in the region. Since early 2013, the mine bosses have threatened cut backs that initially would have involved over 14,000 employees.

 

With threats of strikes and further unrest, the retrenchment plans were reduced to lower numbers. Nonetheless, the threat of lay-offs has been a major source of tension both among members of NUM as well as AMCU.

 

Leading up to the strike on September 27, one AMCU leader told the press that “We are in Johannesburg ? we have been in a meeting overnight in a bid to resolve the strike,” Evans Ramokga said. “The strike continues. Workers are meeting at their workplace.” (bdlive.com.za, September 27)

 

Amplats reported that attendance at its facilities was at 20 percent on the first day of the strike. The company claimed that its production was not seriously impacted by the work stoppage.

 

Company CEO Chris Griffith said in a statement on September 27 that the firm would continue to engage AMCU through established structures. He later renewed threats of downsizing by claiming that the corporation could not afford the demands of the workers.

 

?We have previously stated that the Company is under tremendous economic pressure. Strikes and work stoppages will result in further losses that will hamper plans for future sustainability and further threaten the future of our 45, 000 employees,? Griffith stressed. (bdlive.com.za, September 27)

 

?The company has engaged AMCU on the picketing rules to ensure a peaceful strike action.?

Griffth said the strike was legal for AMCU-affiliated workers only and not for members of the National Union of Mineworkers, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and the United Association of South Africa (UASA).

 

On September 27, 2,000 workers rallied in support of the strike. AMCU leaders denied that it was intimidating other workers who are not participating in the strike.

 

“If they do not meet us at least half way, the strike will continue,” Thebe Maswabi, an AMCU branch chairman, told Reuters.

 

Anglo American Reaches Settlement With Injured Workers

 

In a landmark legal decision, 23 miners from South Africa and neighboring Lesotho have won a settlement against Anglo American for injuries that occurred on the job. The amount of the settlement remained undisclosed and the company was not required to admit guilt.

 

The settlement could open the way for compensation claims by thousands of other miners who contracted lung diseases while employed with Anglo American. This was the first of such a compensation settlement in South Africa.

 

These claimants were represented by Atty. Richard Meeran of the London-based firm Leigh Day which brought the initial case in 2004. Most of the injuring stemmed from the apartheid-era conditions prevailing in the mines.

 

Since the collapse of apartheid and the rise to power of the African National Congress (ANC) many say that conditions have improved in the mining industry.? This settlement could also establish a precedent involving other cases brought against AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony and Gold Fields corporations.

 

?In a technical and legal sense it?s currently the first settlement of this type in South Africa,? Meeran said. ?After this settlement you?d have to wonder why Anglo or other companies would contest similar cases ? it would defy logic.? (Christian Science Monitor, September 27)

 

In reference to the settlement, Khanyisile Kweyama, the executive director of Anglo American South Africa said in a statement that ?We continue to work with industry, government and civil society to tackle the many challenges of primary health care in South Africa. Our collective objective is to significantly improve the access and quality of care available to all South Africans as well as ensuring a healthy and safe working environment for all our employees.?

 

These developments in South Africa illustrate the need to continue the National Democratic Revolution in the direction of socialism. Mine owners in the gold sector have been able to close facilities and downsize their work force.

 

Anglo American which was formed in South Africa under settler-colonialism in 1917, re-located its headquarters to London in 1999, just five years after the coming to power of the ANC. Anglo American merged with a Luxembourg-based Minorco corporation and established its base in England.

 

The corporation sold off its South African gold mining interests to other capitalists. Anglo American still has substantial interests in the platinum, iron ore and thermal coal sectors in South Africa.

 

Under socialism the mining companies and its facilities could be nationalized by the government and turned over for full management and operation by the workers. As the capitalists continue their predatory actions aimed at maximizing profits and disempowering workers, the issue of workers control of the mines and other means of production in South Africa will become the only solution to the preservation of jobs and the improvement of working conditions.

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