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South African union holds off broader strike of Sibanye mines

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The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union did not follow through on a threat to expand its gold strike to Sibanye Gold Ltd.’s platinum mines.

The union, or AMCU, had said Jan. 22 that it would expand the strike to Sibanye’s platinum operations, and possibly beyond, if it failed to get a response within 48 hours to a demand for renewed negotiations to end the 10-week strike.

But three days after imposing the deadline, AMCU has yet to call for platinum workers to picket in support of gold workers.

Union President Joseph Mathunjwa said neither Sibanye nor the Minerals Council of South Africa responded to its demand, leaving the situation in a “stalemate.”

“If it continues, we will be left with no option but to call a full-blown secondary strike for all operations,” Mathunjwa said in an interview, without going into further detail.

Mathunjwa, responding to a question about why the 48-hour deadline had lapsed without action, did not answer directly. He said AMCU wants to resolve the strike through negotiation if possible, while Sibanye has refused to increase a wage offer it reached with other unions at its gold mines in South Africa.

Sibanye spokesperson James Wellsted said the company had considered the demands and would “respond in due course.”

No talks in sight

In making the 48-hour threat, AMCU had called on the Minerals Council of South Africa to answer the union’s demands. But, at least officially, the group has declined to get involved.

“The matter is between AMCU and Sibanye-Stillwater, even though the memorandum was addressed to Sibanye-Stillwater and the Minerals Council,” council spokesperson Charmane Russell said. “This is therefore not something that the Minerals Council will respond to directly.”

It is unclear where that leaves AMCU’s threat to expand the strike to platinum operations should Sibanye continue to refuse to negotiate.

AMCU has doubled down on the possibility of expanding the walk-off, saying earlier in the week that it would also consider starting strikes at platinum mines run by Lonmin PLC and Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd.

Sibanye has been unwilling to engage in wage negotiations because it hopes to have the strike ruled illegal through the courts, Mathunjwa said.

Sibanye has said it has the right to impose the wage agreement on AMCU because other unions that agreed to it represent a majority of workers. AMCU has countered that it represents a majority at the gold mines.

Mathunjwa said Sibanye sought to have a labor court address the issue of union rolls Jan. 25, but the court reserved judgment.

“I think they were banking on today’s outcome,” he said.

Wellsted said he did not know when the court would make a decision. “Hopefully early next week.”

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