The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) plans to appeal a decision by Gold One Modder East Mine to dismiss 401 mineworkers.
The mining company took the drastic move after a group of workers was involved in two underground hostage situations late in 2023.
NUM deputy secretary-general Mpho Phakedi said the union will lodge an appeal through Gold One’s internal company policies to have the workers reinstated.
“We are going to represent those workers, they are our members. We will engage in an appeal and once the appeal is dealt with, we will see what to do,” said Phakedi.
“We might consider going to the CCMA [Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration] if our appeal is unsuccessful.”
Phakedi said some of the workers who have been dismissed are unhappy with the mining company’s decision.
“We have been talking to our members, they are disappointed.”
On Monday, the mine’s head of legal Ziyaad Hassam said 140 employees are currently on suspension for their participation in the October and December hostage dramas.
He said the mining company’s disciplinary hearings are likely to take place next week.
Amcu criticises dismissals
President of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) Joseph Mathunjwa criticised the dismissals.
“The dismissal of any worker under the dire state of our economy is not welcome. This is not easy to surmount,” said Mathunjwa.
“The employer was too harsh. More than 400 families that had breadwinners will be affected.”
“The mine should be asking itself what frustrated those [dismissed] workers to be in that space [underground sit-in]. They were frustrated by the employer and NUM.”
Mathunjwa explained further: “Both of them did not do the ballot every two years to find out if the workers are still satisfied with the closed-shop agreement.
“Amcu is not officially recognised as a union at the mine. NUM must go and represent those workers.
“If they do not, those workers should lay a case against it at the Department of Employment and Labour because the NUM deducts monies from them every month.”
He said Amcu will monitor the situation closely.
“We will not leave these workers in a vulnerable situation after they were thrown in the pit by the brutal capitalist.
“If they are not represented by the NUM, we will assist them by taking their matters to the CCMA or the Labour Court.”
Hassam defended the mine’s dismissal of the mineworkers.
“We hope that would send a strong message to the rest of the workforce that whilst we welcome dialogue and are always available to resolve grievances that employees have, we do not and will not condone illegal and unlawful activity and actions which are in contravention with our code of conduct,” said Hassam.
“Actions which put the mine’s operations at risk, as well as the health and safety of fellow employees at risk, will always result in disciplinary action.
“The nature of the incidents of last year were incredibly serious, from a health and safety and operational perspective. They merited the severity of the action that has been taken by the mine as a consequence thereof.”
Hassam said the dismissals have “certainly left a void within our operational environment”.
“At this stage, we have had to reorganise teams to maximise the workforce that we still have at the mine.
“In the short to medium term, the priority will be to refill those vacancies left behind, starting with the skilled labour and those that require urgent refilling of posts.”
Risk to production operations
Labour expert Andrew Levy said Gold One must have sought legal advice before dismissing the workers.
However, Levy said the dismissal of more than 400 mineworkers could pose a huge risk to the mine’s productions operations.
“I do not think the mine took a decision of this magnitude without careful thought. I am quite sure the mine followed all the requirements of a dismissal,” said Levy.
“This [dismissals] could lead to a practical production risk. The people who were dismissed were highly skilled, received significant training and know how to do the work.
“These are not workers that could easily be replaced by finding people from the street. If the mine finds new employees, a lot of training is needed before they can start the job.
“It will be a matter of months after receiving training that the new employees can become productive. The dismissals will have a huge impact on the production efficiency.”
He added that the dismissals could also lead to more protests. “This may well trigger continued industrial action and disrupt the mine’s operations.”
In December, a hostage unfolded at the Springs-based mine where 447 people had gone underground to perform their duties.
The hostage lasted five nights from December 7 December 11.
It was motivated by protests against the dismissal of employees following the underground hostage drama in October.
In October, 15 mineworkers held about 540 other miners hostage. They were held against their will from the evening of October 22 until October 25.
Gold One said at the time that the miners affiliated to the NUM and who were keen to join Amcu were responsible for the hostage.
However, Amcu dismissed the allegations, saying the workers had voluntarily decided to stage a sit-in underground due to the mine’s delay in facilitating a process to allow them to join Amcu and get out of the closed-shop agreement between the mine and the NUM.