South Africa’s biggest labor union federation said Anglo American Platinum Ltd., Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. and Lonmin Plc are trying to weaken the position of its National Union of Mineworkers affiliate.
The world’s three largest platinum mining companies are forcing members to leave NUM and join the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, Bheki Ntshalintshali, the deputy general-secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions told reporters in Johannesburg today. Lonmin and Impala denied working against NUM and the Chamber of Mines dismissed the federation’s assertions.
One of the companies confirmed it had drafted letters for workers to sign in which they would give up their NUM membership, Ntshalintshali said, without identifying the company. The companies told workers their life may be in danger from inter-union violence and they may fall victim to future job cuts if they didn’t follow the advice, he said.
The company “gave a reason why they have to accept” the change in unions, Ntshalintshali said. “Their profits are disrupted. They want peace at all costs, it’s not a rumor.”
Clashes between supporters of NUM and AMCU erupted on Feb. 18, with security officers firing rubber bullets as protesters used machetes to hack at each other, injuring at least 12 people. AMCU has sought to exploit waning support for NUM, an ally of the African National Congress, to expand its membership.
Rivalry between NUM and AMCU contributed to 10 days of violence at a Lonmin mine near Rustenburg in August in which 10 people died. Police opened fire on striking workers at the site on Aug. 16, killing a further 34 protesters.
“I find this type of comment by Cosatu very unfortunate and very disappointing,” said Elize Strydom, senior executive for Employee Relations at the Johannesburg-based Chamber, which represents most mining companies operating in South Africa. “There is no intention or action by the companies to co-opt any workers in any way.”
The three companies are based in Johannesburg and together account for most platinum output in South Africa, which supplies about three quarters of the world’s need for the metal. “Lonmin has not issued out any forms encouraging members to change union membership,” Barnard Mokwena, the company’s vice-president of external affairs, said in a phone interview. “We encourage the right of association and workers can chose where they want to belong.”
Cosatu’s statements are “unfounded” and “devoid of any merit,” Bob Gilmour a spokesman for Impala, said in an e-mailed response to questions.
AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa and General-Secretary Jeff Mphahlele didn’t immediately answer two phone calls and a text message to each of their mobile phones.
Strikes last year shut gold and platinum mines, reducing South Africa’s gross domestic product by 0.5 percentage point, according to the National Treasury, and contributed to a drop in the nation’s credit rating.