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NUM suspends strike at platinum miner

James Macharia

The National Union of Mineworkers said on Sunday it had suspended an indefinite strike set to start on Monday at Impala Platinum.

The National Union of Mineworkers said on Sunday it had suspended an indefinite strike set to start on Monday at the world’s number two platinum producer, Impala Platinum, after receiving an improved wage offer.

South Africa produces four-fifths of the world’s platinum. A strike at Impala Platinum (Implats) could have pushed up prices of the precious metal used in catalytic converters to remove pollutants from car exhausts, and in jewellery.

The union had said it would call off the strike if it was given an improved offer.

“It looks like we got what we wanted,” said Lesiba Seshoka, spokesperson for the NUM. “We will suspend the strike tomorrow pending the outcome of consultations with our members.”

Platinum had firmed to $1 250 an ounce from $1 236,50 an ounce on Friday, partly pushed by concerns over the impending strike. The white metal had also risen after the union told Reuters late on Wednesday of its plans to strike.

The union and Implats hammered out the new deal in talks that ran from Saturday into the early hours of Sunday morning.

Above-inflation pay settlements after strikes in other industries and sectors in South Africa, and threats of more stoppages have added to concerns of inflation pressures, although President Jacob Zuma has said the union action was nothing more than part of the normal pay negotiating process.

A strike could have affected output from Implats mines in South Africa, and hurt investor sentiment in a sector already hard hit by the financial crisis. In 2008, Implats produced about 22% of all platinum mined in South Africa.

Implats spokesperson Bob Gilmour said it was prudent for the union to suspend the strike and recommend the new offer to its members.

“If you’ve got to recommend a new offer to members then a strike has to be suspended,” Gilmour said. “A strike is the last thing we wanted.”

Implats and the NUM were trying to agree on a pay increase, as well as the duration of the new pay deal.

The NUM said Implats’ latest offer was for a pay rise of 10% for all workers, replacing a previous offer to pay increases of between 9,5% and 10% for different categories of workers, which the union had rejected.

The union also said Implats agreed to its proposal of a one-year deal rather than it previous two-year deal offer.

Another round of wage talks between the NUM and Anglo American’s unit Anglo Platinum, the world’s biggest platinum producer, are due to be held next week. There has been no specific threat of a strike from the union there.

Strikes in various sectors have led to pay settlements of above inflation—6,9% in June—and worries that it could make it harder to lift Africa’s biggest economy out of its first recession in 17 years. - Reuters

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