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South African Court Delays Ruling on Union Strike at Gold Mines

A South African court delayed a ruling on whether a union can stage a strike over pay at individual gold mines run by companies including AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., the world’s third-biggest producer of the metal.

The interim order that mine operators won on Jan. 30 against the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union preventing the strike remains until the final ruling is made, Judge Andre van Niekerk told the Labour Court in Johannesburg. A date for the verdict has yet to be set.

While the AMCU is a minority labor representative in South Africa’s gold industry, representing 19 percent of employees, it is the biggest union at some individual mines including Harmony Gold Mining Co.’s Kusasalethu, Sibanye Gold Ltd.’s Driefontein and AngloGold’s Mponeng. The interim ruling means that a labor action would be unprotected, allowing companies to fire staff who failed to turn up to work.

The AMCU, which has been striking at the world’s three biggest platinum producers since January, argued in court that each mine should be considered a separate workplace, and its members are therefore entitled to strike.

The producers “have a separate plan for each mining operation,” Paul Kennedy, who is representing AMCU, argued in court yesterday.

The companies conduct collective bargaining and manage renumeration centrally, Anton Myburgh, lead counsel for the Chamber of Mines, told the judge. The mines “are not independent of each other,” he said.

The AMCU also maintains that workers have a constitutional right to strike, while the the Chamber of Mines argues that a collective wage agreement by the majority union includes employees who aren’t members of the labor group.

An AMCU walkout in the gold industry risks derailing talks to bring platinum miners back to work, Mark Rosenberg, Africa director at Eurasia Group in New York, said in a June 4 note to clients.

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