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Union that disrupted South African mining faces deregistration

Highlights

  • Labor registrar says AMCU ‘is not a genuine trade union’
  • Union is preparing for platinum-industry wage talks this year

South Africa’s Labor Department said it intends to deregister one of the country’s biggest and most aggressive mining unions, just weeks before crucial platinum-industry wage talks are expected to begin.

A relative upstart compared with the more-established National Union of Mineworkers, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union has shaken up the country’s mining industry over the past decade. It gained prominence in a dispute at Lonmin Plc that culminated in police massacring 34 people at a protest in 2012, after which it took on increasing influence and membership, later leading a five-month industry-wide platinum strike.

AMCU “has ceased to function in terms of its constitution,” and “is not a genuine trade union,” Registrar of Labour Relations Lehlohonolo Molefe said in a notice published in the Government Gazette.

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While the notice didn’t provide further details, Molefe said Thursday morning that the union violated its constitution by failing to hold a congress to elect new leadership. AMCU informed the registrar it would hold the congress in May, but later pushed back the date to September, citing workers who had embarked on a strike, he said in an interview with Radio 702. There’s no sign of AMCU preparing for elections in September, Molefe said.

“When we made follow-ups, we were told we must back off,” Molefe said. “We were told we are giving unusual attention.”

The registrar’s announcement comes after thousands of AMCU’s members started returning to work at Sibanye Gold Ltd.’s gold mines Tuesday after it called off a crippling five-month strike. The union’s platinum strike in 2014 was the longest-ever in the industry and it’s now gearing up for a face-off with producers such as Anglo American Platinum Ltd., Sibanye and Lonmin over new wage agreements.

“It’s certainly a slap to the union’s prestige,” said Andrew Levy, managing partner of Andrew Levy Employment, which advises companies on labor relations and monitors industrial action.

While it may not prevent the group from declaring strikes, being removed from the register would mean mining companies could refuse to pay union fees to AMCU, he said. “It’s not a good situation at all for them.’’

A spokesperson for AMCU declined to comment on Wednesday.

The union and interested parties have 60 days to make representations on why the registration should not be canceled, the notice said. The union has 250,000 active members according to its website.

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