The usually obscure town of Marikana in the Rustenburg area of Mpumalanga Province was a huge hive of activity as early as 5:00 am on Wednesday as workers trekked to work for the first time in many months after a marathon of protracted wage negotiations between the main worker representative organisation, AMCU and the consortium of platinum producers yielded results that heralded the end of the five months old strike. Things are, however not as rosy and as straight forward as they seem.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union has led a wage related strike for the workers in the mines owned by Anglo-American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin since 23 January, 2014. The strike has gone on continuously with negotiations being held and getting suspended due to differences of opinion several times in the time. At some point the recently appointed mines minister raised hopes by declaring that he would make every effort to attend and resolve the negotiations. The hopes were as easily dashed when hardly a week into his arbitration, he announced that he was pulling out. The strike has been credited with the unenviable role of contributing to the shrinking of the South African economy outside of a recession. The negotiations have nonetheless continued and have culminated in the signing of a deal between the two parties.
That is the reason why the workers were up so early to get to work stations that they have not been to in the last five months. There was a lot of excitement in the air as the workers trudged to the mines. One miner said that he felt like a new employee. Those miners that spoke to the media admitted that they felt elated by going back to work. Another miner admitted that he was glad the strike was over and the fact that the strike had translated into a positive difference in their wages was a bonus. A lot of miners formed a queue which was more than a kilometer long with most of these miners geared up in the appropriate mining attire that included hard hats as well as reflective overalls.
However, what excitement there is will not be immediately quelled since the miners will not be let into the mines until safety considerations have been taken care of. Workers themselves have to undergo rigorous safety and medical tests to ascertain their suitability to go back underground and that is where the majority of them spent their first day back at work.
This was, however, the least of the miners’ worries as some workers had to contend with the big shocker; the fact that they no longer had jobs to go back to. Some miners were told, when they got to their work stations that their papers were being prepared for their retrenchment. While this can be shocking for the miners, most economists argue that this state of affairs was always coming as institutions like the platinum producers could not be able to recover as quickly from a strike of this magnitude. Things would not just go back to normal, they said, adding that, while some job losses would be avoided, there are others that were inevitable. The affected workers have vowed to take the matter up with their unions a scenario that could draw the whole country back to gullies of another industrial action.