A quarter million metal sector workers are determined to evoke the same kind of punishment on employers as followers of charismatic Joseph Mathunjwa did to the platinum companies. Before the NUMSA members kick back next Tuesday, one hopes someone will help them to look past the rhetoric. Lengthy strikes rarely benefit anyone. But the biggest losers are those least able to make the financial sacrifice.
I asked a friend who works in the mining sector to help me through the numbers. From what he shared, it will take the striking AMCU members over a decade at the new pay scale to recoup what they lost during their five month enforced holiday.
To be as conservative as possible, he went to the very bottom, using the lowest paid underground worker at the worst paying of the three platinum miners. Ahead of the strike, this worker’s minimum total guaranteed cash remuneration package, including basic, living out allowance and holiday allowance was R7 154 a month.
Six days into the strike, on January 29, the mining companies offered increases of between 7.5% and 9% with the higher figure tagged for the lowest paid workers. This offer, incidentally, was increased on April 17 to between 7.5% and 10%.
If Mathunjwa and Co had accepted the offer received six days into the strike, the lowest paid worker’s monthly earnings would have increased by that 9%, or R644, to R7 798.
Instead, AMCU members rejected the offer and ended up foregoing their income for a further four months and 26 days. The reward for that fortitude was an increase for the lowest paid of R1 000 a month – ie R356 more than he would have gotten if AMCU leadership had accepted the deal offered on 29 January.
Adding in the production bonuses which were obviously foregone by strikers, because strikes are no work no pay, on a conservative basis the lowest paid underground workers gave up R9 000 per month for the five months of the strike – or a total of R45 000.
At R356 a month, simple arithmetic tells us it will take workers 126 and a half months to recoup that R45 000. Their break even on the deal, therefore, comes after working for ten and a half years plus a few days. It is a little more complicated than this because the lowest cost worker also receives an additional R1 450 a month in retirement and medical aid benefits. So the real sacrifice stretches beyond those ten years. But you get the picture.
So who won? Sadly, nobody. The companies lost north of R20bn in lost production. South Africa lost billions in lost export earnings and taxes. But as the numbers show quite clearly, the biggest losers were those least able to make the financial sacrifice. They will work for the next decade to recoup it. Hardly the “victory” AMCU’s mathematically-challenged leadership are attempting to claim. Take note ye members of NUMSA.