Members of the media, Colleagues, Comrades
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) is actively participating in the gold wage negotiations which commenced on 11 July 2018.
This is against the backdrop of ever-increasing cost of living, especially for what we call the working poor. Transport costs skyrocket due to the exorbitant fuel costs, and this also affects the prices of basic foodstuffs.
As we have hit self-inflicted technical recession this month, it is again the poor workers who will eventually bear the brunt. We know that inflation is the main target of our Reserve Bank, and very soon we will see increases in interest rates to curb police spending.
Inflation-targeting favors the capitalist, in that it protects his historical gains, whereas it punishes the worker twice. Firstly, the worker suffers due to high cost of living and then he is hit with higher cost of borrowing money to survive.
When we commenced with the wage negotiations in gold this year, we followed the same approach we have always done. As always, our initial demands were founded upon the quest for a living wage. In this we remain true to our policy stance of believing in a wage-lade economy.
A wage-led economy sees economic growth created by the increased spending power of workers, while they are able to better their living conditions and future prospects.
Another key difference of AMCU’s approach is that of a rand value increase, rather than percentile increase that was the norm prior to 2012. We truly believe that a rand value increase is more progressive in that it seeks to address the wage gap between higher and lower earners.
Since our wage campaigns in the Platinum Belt we are encouraged to see how workers have really benefited and enabled to take greater care of their loved ones after the past two agreements we reached with their employers.
This serves as a living testimony that AMCU members in the Platinum Belt are in better conditions as compared to their colleagues in the gold sector. This credit is attributed to AMCU being resolute in its fights for a living wage and decent working conditions.
Practically, this means that the lowest paid employee working underground in the gold sector currently earns a basic salary of R6 900, whereas the same employee in platinum earns R11 000. That calculates to a difference of R4 100 or almost 40%.
Even more compelling is the comparison in the wage increases in the past six years from 2013:
• In 2013 employees in gold were earning a basic salary of R4 500, while workers in the platinum belt were getting almost the same at R5 000 per month.
• This clearly shows that gold is lagging behind in wages – especially for low-earning workers.
However, it is necessary to note that since 2012 AMCU has enjoyed the status of majority union in platinum, which meant that whatever AMCU agreed with employees, was extended to other employees.
On the other hand, power without ideology is useless.
AMCU has proven that it has ideology to use its power in responsible and progressive ways. It has become evident that our ideas and mandates continuously change the lives of workers. Our work has shown real socio-economic impact.
Conversely, in gold AMCU was traditionally a minority union meaning that it was bound to the substandard wage agreements to which other unions agreed to. That is also why employers in gold are still in the comfort zone of the huge disparities left by apartheid in salary structures and benefits. In gold specifically, most black workers earn far less than their white counterparts.
These mines continue to undermine the quest to address inequality in our country. We are on record to agree with our social partners that our chief enemies are poverty, unemployment and inequality.
We must take this head on as part of our broader agenda of social justice. The picture is changing though! Workers are realizing that AMCU is the only union that remains true to its mandate of a living wage.
Our agreements clearly improve the lives of workers and their families. These improvements are visible and they are real!
As we commenced with he gold wage negotiations with Anglo Gold Ashanti, Harmony gold, Sibanye Stillwater and Village Main Reef, we experienced some setbacks.
In gold, we are still faced by arrogant negotiators and their behavior often borders on stubbornness and downright hostility. This stubborn behavior must be interpreted as resistance to change and resistance to wage equality. This is to maintain the unfair disparities left in the wake of apartheid and capitalism.
This hostility hinders progress and it tends to make wage negotiations very difficult and time consuming
This approach of some negotiators has led to lacking progress with three of the employers. They are Harmony Gold, Sibanye Stillwater and Village Main Reef.
All three of these mining companies are offering three-year wage agreements. All three are offering increases of R625 for year one, R650 for year two and R675 for year three – to workers category 4-8. Living out allowance is set at R100 increase and only for year one.
For higher earners such as miners, artisans and officials, their offer is between 4% and 5% for year one, between 5% and the consumer price index (CPI) in year two and only CPI in year three.
The lack of movement has left us with no other choice than to declare a dead-lock and refer the matter for conciliation at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).
The conciliation will take place tomorrow (12 September 2018) and we hope that the negotiators will change their approach when we have third party involvement.
On the other hand, our engagement with Anglo Gold Ashanti has been more progressive. The reason is that they are making tangible offers which seeks to meet our demands.
Anglo Gold Ashanti is also offering a three-year agreement. Its last offer for category 4-8 workers stands at an increase of R800 during year one, R900 in year two and R1000 in the third year. Living out allowance increases on offer are R100 for each of the three years.
For miners, artisans and officials, the mine is offering 6% in year one, a slightly higher 6.05% in year two, and then 6% again in year three.
The position of AMCU has always been that R12 500 should be the minimum basic salary of workers, and their living out allowance should not be less than R4000 per month. We truly believe that this can be attained over the coming three years.
We want to urge the three employers with whom we are in deadlock to reconsider their positions. They must begin to take the wage negotiations seriously.
If the conciliation process fails, strike will as always be our last resort. However, we are prepared to engage in disciplined and focused industrial action to drive home our point, if there is a lack of understanding.
Notably, these mines have been killing workers on an almost daily basis because they save on investment in safety. They still enjoy hyper profits, and their bosses still get exorbitant bonuses on the back of the sweat of our member.
We assure our members that we shall stay true to their mandate. We shall use all our resources to ensure that we secure the best possible wage deal for them and their loved ones.
I thank you.