PRETORIA – The platinum strike is done and dusted; workers are returning to the shafts and now comes the post-mortem.
Who are the real winners? Who are the losers? Did Amcu get the R12 500? Was it worth it?
These are the questions that are being asked and there are many ways to answer them.
Looking at the numbers is complex, with three different employers, three different agreements and many aspects to take into consideration. There are different categories of workers, basic pay and benefits, three years with different increases to various commitments each year and back-pay.
To get a grip on it, let’s look at the position of the lowest paid underground worker at Lonmin. From information published by the employers Implats, Amplats and Lonmin, one can gain that these workers earned, before tax and other deductions, but excluding production bonuses and shift allowances, R9 790 going into the wage negotiations.
In the second year of the agreement Lonmin initially offered, this salary would increase to R11 328. This was later increased to R11 516. After holding out for five months, the parties agreed to settle on R12 260. By prolonging the strike, the workers therefore benefitted to the tune of R932 per month.
To achieve this, they sacrificed five months of income, amounting to approximately R52 000.
Surely this doesn’t make sense? They will struggle to recoup this lost income.
It is interesting that when this information was communicated to Amcu members, it did not seem to find traction with them. There seems to be a firm belief that the strike achieved much more than R932 a month. It was a significant show of force and solidarity of the 70 000 workers to achieve a common good, despite significant individual sacrifice.
But the reality is that the strike was a failure for workers. It also damaged the economy to such an extent that many other workers in various parts of the country will also feel the effect.
The numbers really do not make sense for individual workers, and I shudder to think where they found the resources to survive for five months without an income. Hopefully the mines will proactively look at whether their unsecured loan agreements are within the law. If not, the increase of R932 a month would be meaningless in practice.
One cannot put a value on claiming back dignity, or breaking out of the prison of powerlessness and standing up to management. But the opportunity cost of this was extremely high, perhaps too high.