South Africans are holding services across the country for 44 miners who died as a result of clashes which followed a miners’ strike that began on 10 August. British public relations group Cardew, representing British mining company Lonmin which operates the mines, gave the Daily News Egypt their view of the situation.
Emma Crawshaw, the Public Relations Officer at Cardew representing Lonmin;
Could you shed some light on the recent events surrounding the Lonmin mines?
There are 3000 rock drill operators who are on strike. They are asking for a pay rise from 5400 rand per month to 12500. On top of that basic salary they also get various housing and medical allowances, which total 9000 rand ($1,000 US).
The National Union of Miners (NUM) and Association of Miners and Construction Workers Union (AMCU) have procedures in place for wage negotiations with the company. These aren’t imposed but are agreements with the unions because obviously in a mine you can’t have people walk out willy-nilly because it is a huge safety risk. These rock operators ignored all those procedures and were making their demands to management.
What happened next?
Management told them they need to go through their unions, and that is when it escalated. Two weeks ago Friday they went on strike, which was declared illegal. The NAM union has been long established and has a majority of the members. AMCU is the newer union and has been established for maybe three years. They are more aggressive and violent in their approach. AMCU have been trying over time to woo members from the MUN and there is two ways they can go about this. One is to ensure their members will get higher wages, the second is through violence or intimidation. When the rock drill operators went out on their illegal strike Friday two weeks ago, the tensions between NUM and AMCU escalated into the violence. Before last week Thursday there had been ten deaths caused by inter-union rivalry, two of which were police officers and eight of which were NUM members.
Last Thursday the police dispersed the crowd and that’s when the police were attacked by people with machetes and other such weapons, which led to the police opening fire resulting in the 34 deaths, bringing the total of recent fatalities to 44.
How has the mood been at the Lonmin mines?
It’s been relatively calm since, although the rock drill operators are still on strike. Because of the violence the other employees have been scared to go back to work. By Tuesday our workforce was back to 30 percent and Lonmin is trying to show people it is safe to go back to work. There are talks going on at the moment which are being facilitated by the South African Council of Chambers. These are merely discussions between the employees and the company to try and encourage people to go back to work but they aren’t wage negotiations.
If the principle cause of the protest was wage-related, would it not be fair to assume that these wages are perhaps sub-par?
The problem is that if Lonmin goes with the wage demands now then it destroys all the procedures and processes by which the unions go about wage negotiations. In that sense the unions are very supportive of the company and are encouraging their people to go back to work. So there are discussions going on but they are not wage negotiations.