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Stricken platinum workers seek strike end, say producers

Andre Janse van Vuuren

Platinum companies have claimed to be in touch with employees who want to come back to work but fear being killed by protesters if they do.

'The offer is good; the problem is we want to go back to work but we are afraid to get killed,' a worker wrote. (Paul Botes, Mail & Guardian)

Workers striking at the South African operations of the world's largest platinum producers want to report for duty almost nine weeks after the biggest union called a stoppage over wages, the companies say.

Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin are communicating with employees by text messages and through radio campaigns after talks with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) broke down on March 25, Charmane Russell, a spokesperson for the producers at Russell & Associates, said on Wednesday by phone.

Employees have lost about R4.5-billion in unpaid wages, according to a website run by the companies. "The offer is good; the problem is we want to go back to work but we are afraid to get killed," a worker wrote in a message published to the producers' website.

Amcu called the strike on January 23, demanding basic wages be more than doubled within three years to R12 500 a month, from current pay of R5 000 to R6 000. Employers have offered increases of as much as 9%. South Africa's inflation rate was 5.9% in February. 

The country accounts for more than two-thirds of the world's mined platinum, used for jewellery and catalytic converters in vehicles to reduce harmful emissions.

"I'm worried about our jobs – what is the final offer and when can we report at work," another worker wrote. The producers have lost more than R10-billion in revenue due to the strike, according to their website.

Offer terms
Their offer will increase underground entry-level miners' basic pay to as much as R7 230 by July next year and total pay, including cash allowances, medical and retirement benefits, to R12 172, the companies said on the website.

The relatives of some workers have also said they want the strike to end, the companies said.

"My father is the only bread winner at home with three children and a wife to provide for," a daughter wrote. "Now since the strike is not promising to end and workers are living in fear of losing their jobs, it gets hard physically and emotionally."

Producers are asking workers to give the Amcu a new mandate for a lower settlement, Impala spokesman Johan Theron said by phone on March 24.

Amcu President Joseph Mathunjwa wasn't immediately available to comment. The union will be marching on Thursday to the Johannesburg offices of Impala, the second-largest producer, to hand over a list of its demands. It had a similar rally at Anglo American Platinum, the biggest miner of the metal, on March 18.

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, a state labour mediator, met with Amcu on Wednesday in an attempt to recommence talks between the disputing parties, it said in an emailed statement. It will be meeting with producers at a later stage, it said. – Bloomberg

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