AMCU, the platinum industry's main trade union, plans to strike from
Thursday at Implats, Anglo American Platinum <AMSJ.J> and Lonmin <LMI.L>,
the top three producers of the metal used in emissions-capping
catalytic converters in cars.
The union had also planned to strike in the gold sector but a court
ruled that the strike be suspended pending a review of its legality.
Around 100,000 workers or a fifth of South Africa's mining labor
force could down tools or be prevented from crossing picket lines in
a stoppage that would hit over half of global platinum production.
However, Implats said it was closing its Rustenburg operations from
its mines, processing units and smelter ahead of Thursday's strike
to ensure the safety of its employees.
"We have also deployed additional security measures," spokesman
Johan Theron said, adding those reporting for work during the strike
would be paid even if the mines were shut.
The company said its Marula mine in the northern Limpopo province
and Two Rivers mine in the eastern Mpumalanga province were not
affected by the strike and had not been shut.
Amplats and Lonmin said they would stop operations with the morning
shift on Thursday.
Police said officers would be deployed to the platinum belt to
ensure the strikes were peaceful, a necessary precaution after a
protracted and bloody turf war in 2012 and 2013 between AMCU and the
rival National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
The chief executives of the three affected platinum producers said
on Tuesday the industry could ill-afford further production and job
losses, noting they had lost a combined 879,400 ounces of output to
labor stoppages in 2012 and 2013.
Platinum traded near $1,452 an ounce on Wednesday, near a
three-month peak reached this week on the strikes.
Amplats said on Wednesday it swung back into profit in 2013 as it
rebounded from a wave of wildcat strikes but its recovery is again
threatened by this week's looming industrial action.
The government, lead by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, has
offered to mediate to try to end the dispute, which threatens South
Africa's already struggling economy.
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"The three platinum producers have all accepted, so they are willing
to come together in one room to have one negotiating team,"
Motlanthe spokesman Thabo Masebe said. "AMCU did indicate that in
principle they are willing to negotiate."
There were also signs of divisions in AMCU's ranks after
dissidents said this week they planned to form a rival union,
accusing its leadership of recklessly pursuing a damaging strike
they say many miners do not want and cannot afford.
Vuyo Maqanda, AMCU shop steward at Implats, told Reuters workers
there were holding a mass meeting on Wednesday to decide whether or
not to heed the strike call by AMCU leader Joseph Mathunjwa.
"Mathunjwa told the workers they need to strike, whereas the workers
don't want to go on strike. They have no money — it's January," he
The union was also threatening to strike over wages at gold mines
operated by AngloGold Ashanti <ANGJ.J>, Harmony Gold <HARJ.J> and
Sibanye Gold <SGLJ.J>.
The bullion producers sought a court order to halt the action on the
grounds that a wage agreement signed with last year with the NUM — still the majority union on the gold mines — applies to all workers
in the sector.
The court is due to give its verdict on January 30 and ordered the
strike be halted until then.
Besides the economic damage, President Jacob Zuma and the ruling
African National Congress (ANC) are keen to avoid labor unrest ahead
of general elections expected in around three months.
(Additional reporting by Zandi Shabalala,
David Dolan and Ed Cropley; editing by Ed Cropley, Mark Potter and
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