THE Chamber of Mines warned on Thursday that if the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) won the right to strike in the gold sector it would devastate producers.
The implications of a protracted stoppage at gold companies would be more severe, due to the generally lower profit margins compared to their platinum sector counterparts.
Amcu, which is now in its fifth month of a wage strike in the platinum sector, returns to court today to argue that preventing its members from striking for a R12,500 basic wage in the gold sector is unconstitutional.
As the union was in court on Thursday, platinum producers Lonmin, Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum met for a second day of talks with an inter-ministerial government task team headed by Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi.
The talks are aimed at finding an offer that could respond to Amcu’s demands. It was unclear last night if a third day of talks would take place today.
Speaking during a break in proceedings yesterday, Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said the union was still waiting for a call from the task team.
"We have been steadfast on R12,500 … but we moved from one year to four years, so therefore it’s up to the companies to say it’s time to share the minerals of this country," he said. Amcu viewed the continuing engagement with producers and the government positively, Mr Mathunjwa said.
Speculation is rife, however, that Amcu is waiting to see whether it will be able to down tools at gold mines before settling with platinum producers.
Speaking outside the court, Chamber of Mines chief negotiator Elize Strydom said gold companies had even "thinner margins" than platinum producers, almost half of which were making losses even before the prolonged strike started.
"A strike would be devastating (in the gold sector), and definitely, we wouldn’t be able to sustain the kind of strike action we have seen in the platinum sector," she said.
If Amcu’s application, based on the constitutionality or not of majoritarianism, was successful, it would have implications across the industry, said Ms Strydom.
Amcu represented 17% of workers during gold sector wage negotiations in September, at which a wage settlement of up to 8% for lower-paid workers was accepted by three other unions.
Amcu, which refused to sign the agreement and wanted to embark on industrial action in both the gold and platinum sectors in January, was temporarily interdicted from striking.
On Thursday, it was Amcu’s chance to challenge the interdict. It also brought a counterapplication arguing that the principle of majoritarianism in centralised wage talks violated the constitutional rights of workers.
Labour Court Judge Andre van Niekerk adjourned proceedings without judgment on either matter yesterday, with the Chamber of Mines set to begin oral arguments today.