For now, Sibanye-Stillwater has a choke-hold on Amcu
CEO Neal Froneman would not give a jot to the union during gold mine strike, but platinum talks are next
Sibanye-Stillwater’s handling of its five-month gold strike by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) was more than just about its gold mines – it set the tone for its proposed takeover of the world’s third-largest platinum miner.
The five-month strike, the second-longest by Amcu, a few days shorter than its 2014 strike in the platinum sector, was marked by the absolute intransigence of Sibanye’s management to yield to the union.
Sibanye was bound by agreements with three other unions with which it had signed a wage deal. But there was a much more important principle at stake in dealing with Amcu as the company headed into platinum-sector wage talks and incorporated Lonmin.
By proving its management’s resolve in the gold sector wage talks, which cost Sibanye about R2bn, it set the tone for its relationship with Amcu in the platinum sector where Sibanye is a relative newcomer.
Whether Amcu will again call its members out on a protracted strike to back its demands in the platinum sector will only be known as the talks in June progress and negotiators get a sense of the approach the union takes.
For Sibanye, it also sets the stage for the restructuring of Lonmin’s assets at which Amcu is the dominant union.
The relationship between Sibanye and Amcu, smarting from the humiliating climb-down at the company’s gold mines, is bad. Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa will want to prove to his members and Sibanye that he and the union have muscle and clout.
Whether his members – who will well remember the financial hardships of the 2014 strike – have the appetite for another long strike remains to be seen. They will have closely watched the way the gold strike ended and know that there’s a tough new player on the field.