JOHANNESBURG, Aug 14 (Reuters) – Platinum producer Lonmin and South Africa’s hardline AMCU said they signed a recognition accord on Wednesday in a move that averts threatened strike action by the union.
The agreement, reached two days before the first anniversary of the massacre of 34 striking workers shot by police at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, opens the way for wage talks between the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union and the company that are expected to start within weeks.
While the deal heads off a potential strike over recognition, the pay talks are expected to be extremely tough, given AMCU is demanding pay hikes as high as 150 percent from Lonmin rival Anglo American Platinum, the world’s top producer of the precious metal.
Members of AMCU, which claims most of Lonmin’s workforce, have twice this year staged brief illegal strikes at its mines and had threatened to down tools again unless the company recognised it as the dominant union.
The agreement formally recognises AMCU as the majority union at Lonmin, the world’s third largest platinum producer.
AMCU, which exploded onto South Africa’s labour scene last year as it wrested tens of thousands of members on the platinum belt from the once unrivalled National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in a turf war, has a well-earned hard line reputation.
Lonmin was at the centre of the labour violence last year in which more than 50 people were killed and has been recovering from a 2012 illegal strike, rooted in the AMCU/NUM rivalry, which forced it to turn to investors to raise more than $800 million to avoid breaching lending terms.
In recent months AMCU has displayed more disciplined focus, orchestrating brief closures to show displeasure while pursuing talks without resorting to the protracted and often violent wildcat action that marked its emergence.
In wage talks with gold and other platinum producers it is taking a forceful stance, seeking huge pay raises for the lowest-paid workers at a time when metal prices are falling.
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