Lonmin Majority Union Seeks 35% Threshold to Award Rights

Unions at Lonmin Plc should have 35 percent of workforce membership to gain rights to organize, according to the AMCU, which is in arbitration with the world’s third-largest platinum producer over the issue.

Other unions “will have to recruit,” Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union President Joseph Mathunjwa said by phone. The AMCU has 70 percent of Lonmin’s workers in low-skilled jobs and is the majority union, according to Lonmin.

Lonmin operations have been a battleground between AMCU and the National Union of Mineworkers, which had been the majority union and whose members make up 20 percent of the workforce. The NUM has until July 16 to regain its majority or lose its office and associated privileges, a labor court ruled, after Lonmin attempted to expedite the process “in the interests of peace and security on the ground,” the company said on May 29.

The AMCU and Lonmin haven’t been able to agree how unions will be recognized under an accord to be drafted acknowledging its majority. South Africa’s Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration has scheduled a hearing on June 26 to make a final decision.

A union should have 45 percent of representation to participate in bargaining and have shop stewards, and 50 percent plus one should allow a union to negotiate separate issues, Mathunjwa said.

‘Extremely Unbearable’

Lonmin, which ranks behind Impala Platinum Ltd. and Anglo American Platinum Ltd., known as Amplats, among producers of the metal, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

There are two central bargaining forums, the one NUM held the majority in and another consisting of miners, artisans and officials, for which there is a 20 percent threshold for recognition, said Franz Stehring, head of mining at UASA. The unions Solidarity, NUM and UASA all have enough members to belong to that group.

“AMCU cannot insist that management derecognize” the forum UASA is represented in, he said. “It makes life extremely unbearable at the mine, even though you have rights but you can’t fulfill them because of an obstructive party in a different bargaining unit but in the same workplace.”

Solidarity represents just under 30 percent of employees in the bargaining unit that typically includes the more skilled workers, Gideon du Plessis, general secretary of the union, said in an e-mail response to questions.

“This winner-takes-all principle is also very dangerous and was the underlying reason for most of the tension that lead to the labor unrest at Impala, Lonmin and Amplats, and employers should know it by now,” he said. “Solidarity’s contribution should be weighed and not counted.”

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