The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has marched on the Minerals Council, the department of the South African Government responsible for managing mining in the country, to demand an improvement to conditions for mine workers and an increase to the sector’s minimum wage.
The minimum wage in South Africa was set at R3,500 a month, equivalent to around $253.75, last November, when President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the minimum wage bill into law. However, unions have argued that the figure is far too low, and the AMCU is marching in favour of a significant increase to R12,500 a month, worth $898.49.
“The Minerals Council [of] South Africa must be a museum,” tweeted AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa ahead of the march, “as it still represents an oppressive monopoly capital and apartheid regime designed to oppress the South African black worker.”
The march also follows the union’s ongoing strike action against Sibanye-Stillwater’s operations in the country, which have reached their tenth week. The AMCU started industrial action against the miner’s gold operation last November, following the agreement of wage deals between Sibanye-Stillwater and other trade unions, and the stagnation of gold miners’ wages compared to other salaries in the mining sector.
The union has since expanded its action to target the miner’s platinum operations, and between 9,700 and 12,500 of the 17,400 permanent employees at Sibanye-Stillwater’s platinum projects are expected to have downed tools.
AMCU’s actions have also been motivated by a poor year for mining safety in South Africa in general, and for Sibanye-Stillwater in particular. In the first eight months of 2018, 58 mine workers died at work, compared to 82 in the whole of 2017, with 20 of these deaths reported at Sibanye-Stillwater’s operations.
While it is unclear how fatality figures changed in the latter half of the year, there remains hostility between the AMCU, which blames Sibanye-Stillwater for not doing enough to protect its workers, and the miner, which has accused the union of striking illegally and disrupting operations.
“We are disappointed that AMCU continues to pursue these obstructive actions and delay the conclusion of the ongoing strike, while its members are suffering severe financial hardship as a consequence,” said Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman. “We are not surprised by AMCU’s behaviour and have considered other legal alternatives, which we will be pursuing.”