South Africa's mine owners flex their muscles

Striking mine workers gather outside the Anglo American mine on 5 October 2012 in Rustenburg. South Africa

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The mass dismissals by Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) appear to be the most assertive move yet by management in a wider industrial crisis that has sent shock waves through South Africa's vital mining sector.

In one sense Anglo American is simply reinforcing the tough line it has taken across the board against illegal, unsanctioned, and often violent strike action here.

It is a move that will enrage some.

The African National Congress's Youth League has already called it "irrational and illogical" and accused Amplats of spitting "on the graves of those who have lost their lives in the current mining climate".

Start Quote

There's no way they could recruit and train another 12,000 workers. Anglo will try to rehire those it wants to keep”

End Quote Loane Sharp Labour analyst

But for others, the move may be seen as a bold - and strategically wise - attempt to defend the carefully constructed and heavily politicised system of collective bargaining, which has been at the heart of South African labour policy since the end of apartheid and which has, over the past few weeks, seemed on the brink of collapse.

The immediate priority for South Africa is to find a way to prevent the labour unrest becoming a contagion that could even spread to the country's vital public services sectors.

In the longer term, many analysts believe that mine owners will give in to higher wage demands, but only by laying off tens, or possibly even hundreds of thousands of workers in a country already struggling with dangerously high levels of unemployment.

As for the dismissals at Amplats - labour analyst Loane Sharp suspects there may be less to the move than meets the eye.

"It's a hollow threat… a not uncommon tactic in South Africa," he said.

"There's no way they could recruit and train another 12,000 workers.

"Anglo will try to rehire those it wants to keep. It won't reappoint everyone."

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  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Anyone point me to the law on strikes in South Africa (be interested to read their fairness or otherwise)?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    In SA there is little rule of law, it is corrupt within its institutions, its not competitive and its labour policies are stifling any growth or competition. Combat these things and you have a winning formula.

    Note that the SA news services are not reporting on the Rand exchange rate dropping massively (4% drop to USD). Might be going crazy, but think there's a news blanket showing in SA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Immediate priority for South Africa is to find a way to prevent the labour unrest becoming contagion that could even spread to the country's vital public services sectors.
    Well, it seems simply to me.
    Pay a living wage, or is it that the mines are not making a rather indecent profit.
    Greed is the problem; just wage the solution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    To operate a pneumatic drill does not take a rocket scientist, but only a week or two of on the job training. Therefore a big up on Amplats for not yielding to these hooligans - if they don't like the remuneration and choose violence, intimidation and destruction instead of wage negotiations, then get rid of them make way for the countless other unemployed who would only be too to step in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The Miners are frustrated, they are dealing with Greed
    Corporate greed that will hold them down and do anything to keep them working as cheap as possible
    Peaceful Protest is difficult
    But necessary to maintain integrity
    I wish all of the miners the best of luck
    You are fighting the fight of the just, do it with peace and you WILL prevail
    Love to you all from my heart!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    9 GM : It's called corruption and comes in many guises. Giving money to a Union Official to accommodate the Corps interests over that of the workers is not unusual
    Congress are being corrupted by Super PAC money to write legislation & put add on's like they did so Halliburton can pollute the US aquifer and not be prosecuted.
    It is a World Wide Problem and must be deal with peacefully
    Learn & go on

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Lets hope cooler heads can prevail. Lets hope that the miners don't get carried away with their demands and end up shooting themselves in the foot by crippling the industry that they rely on for their living. This could easily spread throughout the continent and halt the economic growth being occurring in most mining countries in Africa.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Oh dear! It's a British company.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    The problem here seems to be that the union officers are more interested in keeping their cosy life than improving that of their members. It has happened before elsewhere in the world and will doubtless continue to happen.

    Where was Mr Vavi when all this started? Campaigning for re-election perhaps? Now he's re-elected, he reappears. Strange that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    A mining job is treacherous, metalliferous mining is far safer than coal mining. South African mines, considering the volume extracted, do have a high safety record. But whether it is the Union gone berserk, or the management who are very powerful standing their ground, it is a pity that a compromise has not been found. Capitalism, is for the most part communism in the private sector.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    All bargaining Rights & Union Battles world Wide are not helped by violence
    That is where the Amplats workers have gone astray, but they are fighting against the kind of corporation that will do anything to get their way, frustration turned to violence & is unfortunate
    This reminds me of Obama trying to "make a deal" with Congress for a balanced budget
    There was just no way
    Take the High Road!

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Like the minimum wage, right-to-work battles have flared repeatedly for more than a half-century after workers toiling in onerous circumstances
    Not unlike what some in African factories face today
    Won the right to unite & bargain for wages & workplace conditions. Effectively curbing collective bargaining rights

    The U$A's overall union membership rate continues to slide

    A world Wide Struggle!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    The war against Unions is happening here in USA
    Here a Right to Work law secures the right of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to join or financially support a union
    The "right-to-work" law allows workers to skip paying union dues but still receive the benefits of union-negotiated contracts

    It effectively allows Super PAC's to out spend unions who fight for workers rights


  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Collective Bargaining is being made a mockery of when a corp fires 12,000 workers, then hires back most of them, weeding out who?
    The organizers, the "ring Leaders"
    Strategic ? Yes
    Pity the workers cannot refuse to go back and leave the corp to try to train new workers and make a profit
    Breaking the back of Unions is happening in the U$A as well, they started by taking away fundraising

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    These miners deserve to get a wage that they and their families can live a comfortable life earning
    They should be able to afford extra's as well
    The Corporate Philosophy of Profits over and above the health and well being of the employees is the new battle front world wide
    Corporate Greed has taken a toll on so many workers, they have lost benefits and earn less and less every year

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Truly disgusting behaviour by Amplats, just give the people who are doing the work a fair wage.

    I also think the assertation that this is seen as a contagion is probably correct, and they must stamp out this rise in popular dissent, before the rest of Africa gain awareness to the fact that they have a right to a decent living wage whilst the West profits from there labour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    South Africa, what ever decision you will take, think the consequences



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