Four senior Lonmin Platinum Mine managers were in Lesotho last week to give the estimated 1 900 Basotho employed by the embattled South African firm an ultimatum to either return to work by May 15 or face “bitter consequences”.
Lonmin, Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum workers have been on strike since January, with their representative, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), refusing to back down from its demand for a M12 500 monthly wage for the least-paid miner — up from M 5 713.
Since the latest wage-talks collapsed two weeks ago, the three companies — the world’s top producers of the precious mineral — have been trying to undermine Amcu’s leadership by making direct appeals to the strikers, resulting in visits to Lesotho, Mozambique and Botswana to meet with the employees.
The companies are hoping by bypassing the uncompromising Amcu, and after three months without pay, the workers would take the M 11 500 they are offering and return to work for operations to start on Wednesday this week, at Lonmin.
Led by the company’s Head of Stakeholder Relations and Public Affairs, Mr Happy Nkhoma, the Lonmin delegation which arrived in Lesotho on Wednesday, also included Stakeholder Relations Manager, Mr Victor Tseka, Manager: Local Economic Development and Support-External Affairs, Mr Sebalo Tsogang, and Human Consultant, Ms Violet Katane.
On Thursday, the four delegates met some of the miners in Mokhotlong, Qacha’s Nek and Thaba-Tseka, before holding the final meeting in Maseru on Friday.
Addressing about 50 of the miners who had assembled at The Employment Bureau of Africa (TEBA) offices in Maseru on Friday, Mr Tseka said the workers had until Wednesday “to take up the
M 11 500 the mine is prepared to pay or face the consequences, which will not be very appealing to anyone.”
Mr Tseka emphasised it was up to each individual to make his choice, adding: “Do not get us wrong. We are not going to force anyone to take up the offer or return to work against their will; we are simply stating the facts and what we can afford.”
Mr Tseka further said those willing to return to work should indicate so as a matter of urgency.
“Those of you who are ready to accept our offer and return to work should contact us as soon as possible by phone or email, or even now. We will make sure that you get the contact details before we leave the country,” Mr Tseka said.
“We know you also don’t like the fact that you are at home and you are not receiving anything to maintain your families.
“What we are trying to do is work towards an amicable solution which shall benefit both the company and you, the workers. We are working hard to avoid a situation where we’ll be forced to protect the company’s interests at the expense of the workers.”
Mr Tseka explained after the wage-negotiations with Amcu reached a deadlock, the Lonmin management had decided to meet the employees directly to make the wage offer.
According to Mr Tseka, Lonmin had sent its representatives to Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland and Mozambique to make the offer directly to the miners.
“We understood some of our workers had gone back to their home countries when the strike was showing no signs of abating; that is why we came here
where you are based,” Mr Tseka said.
“We are aware that time is running out and both parties, which is the company and you, the employees, are suffering. That is why we are asking you to come back to work.”
However, the Basotho miners — who did not want the media around during the meeting with the Lonmin management, accusing journalists of being “troublemakers and promoting unrest” — said they were willing to go back to work, but feared for their safety.
“We don’t have a problem with going back to work; the only concern is our safety because when we went on strike, it was a collective decision. The entire workforce went on strike, so at the moment, we don’t know how the other workers feel about returning to work with our initial conditions not having been met.
“We are afraid that if we turn up for work on Wednesday, we might find people who will fight us for reporting for duty,” one of the workers, who refused to identify himself for fear of
victimisation, told the management.
“The best way to resolve this is for you to go back and meet with our representatives back in South Africa, because we are not sure if we will be safe when we return to work.”
Meanwhile, when the Sunday Express asked Mr Nkhoma about the workers’ safety should they return to work against the wishes of Amcu, he said: “We are trying to come up with solutions here, and if they don’t work out, there will be bitter consequences.
“On the issue of the workers’ safety, we have already talked to the South African government, who have assured us that the workers will be protected. We are not even saying the workers should
go there to fight but to return to work.”