Business

Government resumes talks over platinum strike

Paul Burkhardt

Government-led talks between major platinum mines and dominant union Amcu have resumed in Pretoria as the strike enters its third day.

Striking Amcu workers demand a minimum wage of R12 500 in the platinum sector. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

South African government-led talks to end platinum strikes that have crippled production from the world's three largest suppliers resumed in Pretoria between the companies and the industry's dominant trade union.

"The strike continues and we will meet for negotiations on Monday," Jeff Mphahlele, general secretary of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), said by phone. "It's too early to tell" what the outcome of the discussions in the South African capital will be, he said.

Workers at Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum Holdings and Lonmin, are yet to reach an accord with employers on wage demands, which include calls by Amcu to more than double entry-level pay to R12 500 a month. The dispute has weighed on the rand, which on Monday traded at its weakest level in more than five years.

A strike that started January 23 is costing Amplats, as the Anglo American unit is known, 4 000 ounces of production and R100-million in revenue a day, the company said on January 24. Lonmin is losing 3 100 ounces and Impala 2 800 ounces.

South Africa, with the largest known reserves of platinum, relies on metal exports for more than half its foreign-exchange earnings, and disruption at the mines has led to a burgeoning current-account deficit. President Jacob Zuma has dispatched Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant to facilitate talks between the companies and Amcu.

The rand weakened for a fourth day, falling to its lowest level since October 2008, and was 1% lower at 11.201 per dollar by 11:49 am in Johannesburg. Platinum for immediate delivery rose 0.1% to $1 429.99 an ounce.

Amcu dominance
Amcu has unseated the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) as the biggest labour organisation at the platinum mines. It has gained in membership and influence since the killing of at least 44 people at Lonmin's Marikana operations in August 2012. At least 70 000 members of the union have downed tools in the country that is home to about 70% of global production.

There were no strike-related incidents reported over the weekend or early on Monday , Thulani Ngubane, a spokesperson for the South African Police Service in the North West province, said in a text message.

Workers were chased away from reporting to work at two Impala shafts, Sydwell Dokolwana, the NUM's regional secretary, said in a text message.

Amplats and Impala were granted a court order on January 24 aimed at preventing intimidation by Amcu members of other workers, the companies said on Monday in a statement. The order requires Amcu to ensure its members keep to picketing rules and don't damage company property, the statement shows.

Deficit inflated
Mine stoppages inflated the deficit on South Africa's current account, the broadest measure in the trade of goods and services, to 6.8% of gross domestic product in the three months through September, according to Statistics SA. Africa's largest economy relies on foreigners buying stocks and bonds to fund the gap.

The nation's economy will expand 2.8% this year, according to the median estimate of 24 economists surveyed by Bloomberg from January 17 to January 22.

"The mining sector is crucial to the South African economy," Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "Government is working very hard at mediating some of the differences between employers and labour unions" to end the strikes, he said.  – Bloomberg

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