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.”