April 9, 2014 / 4:31 PM / 6 years ago

South Africa's NUM union says regaining members in platinum belt

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is winning back members on the platinum belt from rival AMCU and is poised to regain recognition status at one of Anglo American Platinum’s (AMSJ.J) mines, its general secretary said on Wednesday.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) emerged as the top union in the platinum shafts in 2012 after signing up tens of thousands of NUM members during a vicious union turf war in which dozens of people were killed.

AMCU’s members downed tools 11 weeks ago at Amplats, a unit of global mining giant Anglo American (AAL.L), as well as Impala Platinum (IMPJ.J) and Lonmin LMI.L in a strike over pay which shows no signs of ending, with the two sides still poles apart.

Baleni told the Reuters Africa Investment Summit that many workers wanted to return to work and the NUM was regaining members from AMCU.

“I have been monitoring almost weekly the numbers of members who are coming back to the union. In fact in one of the operations in Anglo American Platinum we are going to be recognized again because of the numbers,” he said.

He declined to say which operation it was but said to get union recognition the NUM required a threshold of at least 33 percent of the workforce and they were now at 42 percent.

Baleni added NUM membership had been as low as 10 percent at this particular mine. He also said that in November and December of last year the NUM regained about 10,000 workers from AMCU.

“We have not been able to quantify all our numbers, because a number of employers were saying we will only process these post the strike, whereas others are processing them like Anglo,” he said.

A spokeswoman at Amplats declined to either confirm or deny what Baleni said.

If true, the numbers would suggest that rank and file enthusiasm for AMCU’s stoppage is wearing thin as striking workers have already lost over 20 percent of their year’s pay, straining households where a miner is often the only breadwinner.

AMCU was maintaining the strike only through violence and intimidation, Baleni said.

“If it weren’t for the violence the strike would have already collapsed, people have not been coming to work because they are scared,” he said.

AMCU has always denied allegations that it uses violence to recruit members or keep them in line and says it has grown because the NUM, a key political ally of the ruling African National Congress was out of touch with rank and file concerns and failed to deliver on its promises.

AMCU is demanding a more than doubling of basic wages to 12,500 rand ($1,200) a month over the next three years, which the producers say they cannot afford. They have offered increases of up to 9 percent.

Baleni said the strike was damaging for South Africa’s union movement in general, pointing to the admission by Lonmin last week that it was communicating directly with striking workers by cell phone text messages.

Lonmin said a survey of its workforce using cellphone texts indicated that around two thirds wanted to return to the shafts and end the strike and Baleni said such tactics could be used in the future to undermine NUM.

“There will also be job losses after this strike,” he said.

A drastic post-strike overhaul is looking certain for the industry and Anglo American has said it could divest some of its loss-making platinum assets including its strike-hit Rustenburg operations northwest of Johannesburg.

The strike is the most damaging in South Africa’s mines in living memory and has cost producers over $1 billion in revenue. It has hit around 40 percent of global output of the metal used for emissions-capping catalytic converters in automobiles.

The NUM remains the biggest union representing miners and has around 300,000 members, which also include workers in the construction and energy sectors.

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($1 = 10.4306 South African Rand)

Editing by Greg Mahlich

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