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AMCU’s firebrand leader is headed for a showdown with govt

Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) president, Joseph Mathunjwa, addresses thousands of Lonmin mine striking workers on May 15, 2013, at the Wonderkop stadium in Marikana during an illegal strike. Miners failed to report for a morning shift extending the strike into its second day and paralysing 13 shafts belonging to the world's third largest platinum producer. The informal strike has been fuelled by rivalty between the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and its once might rival the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). The two unions are locked in a vicious power struggle over who represents the majority of miners at Marikana, where 34 miners were shot dead by police last year. AMCU regional leader Mawethu Steven and two brothers, said to be members of NUM, were killed in separate incidents over the weekend. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER

The union leader of  Mathunjwa  Association of Mineworkers and constructions Union (AMCU) Joseph has never hesitated to go head-to-head with powerful CEOs. Now he may have to face down the government.

The said Union has upended labour relations in the local mining sector, leading long and crippling strikes as it seized members from rival unions. A relative upstart, the militant union became a household name after a 2012 dispute at Lonmin that culminated in police massacring 34 people at a protest.

AMCU may now face its biggest test yet, after a government official threatened to deregister the union for failing to hold a regular congress and leadership polls. Mathunjwa has promised to fight the move, which could sharply curb the group’s finances and influence, and insisted it is compliant with regulations.

If a weakened AMCU resulted in fewer prolonged strikes at South African mines, it would be welcome news for producers already struggling with high costs and aging mines. The union was on the back foot even before the deregistration news, after calling off a five-month strike at Sibanye Gold’s gold mines with little to show for it.

For now, though, a dispute with the Labour Department will probably mean more operational disruptions if AMCU members protest against the move to deregister the union. It also ratchets up uncertainty just as the world’s biggest platinum producers are getting ready to negotiate new wage agreements with local labor groups.

“Companies have to decide whether to take AMCU seriously,” said Ross Harvey, a mining analyst at the South African Institute of International Affairs. “If they don’t, then AMCU could unleash chaos and the mines may have to close shafts.”




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