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Ramatlhodi denies abandoning platinum strike talks

Reuters, Genevieve Quintal

The mines minister says a state task team that intervened in Amcu's wage negotiations has "done enough work" for the parties to continue.

Amcu members downed tools on January 23 demanding a basic monthly salary of R12 500. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi denied on Tuesday that he “abandoned” wage negotiations in the platinum mining sector.

“I strongly believe we’ve done enough work ... for the parties to be able to move forward [independently],” he told reporters in Pretoria. 

“It is a misperception that I am abandoning the talks.” 

The minister set up an intergovernmental technical task team two weeks ago to intervene in talks between the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and platinum mining companies. 

Amcu members downed tools on January 23 demanding a basic monthly salary of R12 500. They have so far rejected the companies’ offer that would bring their cash remuneration to R12 500 by July 2017. 

On Saturday, Ramatlhodi said he would pull out of the talks if no agreement was reached by Monday. Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum, and Lonmin said they would look at other options. So far, the industry has lost R21.8-billion in earnings, while employees have forfeited wages of around R9.7-billion according to a website set up by the companies, www.platinumwagenegotiations.co.za

Deadlocked wage talks
Meanwhile, wage talks between Amcu and major platinum producers were deadlocked on Monday, prompting the mining minister to abandon his mediation role and dashing hopes for an end to a strike that is pushing the economy towards recession.

The five-month strike has halted mines that normally account for 40% of global platinum output and has hit wider economic output in Africa’s most advanced economy, driving it into contraction in the first quarter of this year.

The meeting on Monday was crucial as the government had said it would pull out of its mediation role if a deal was not struck then and, after the talks ended at an impasse, it duly announced that the mining minister would no longer take part in negotiations.

“No agreement was reached today [Monday],” Joseph Mathunjwa, president of the Amcu, told reporters as he left the talks in Pretoria.

“Amcu made many concessions. We actually moved twice to make employers move closer to us,” he said, but added that the union did not compromise its demand for a R12 500 a month basic wage, which excludes allowances.

Several rounds of talks Amcu and the producers have previously held several rounds of talks, with the companies offering pay increases of up to 10%, which would raise the overall minimum pay package to R12 500 by July 2017, although this includes cash allowances for necessities such as housing.

The union has so far rejected the offers from the companies and those proposed by a government mediating team.

‘Continue to talk to each other’
Ramatlhodi said at the weekend that the government would pull out of its mediating role if the two sides could not reach a deal, saying the government could “take them to the river but not make them drink”.

“The minister will no longer be involved,” mining ministry spokesperson Mahlodi Muofhe told the SAfm on Monday after the talks ended without resolution.

“The parties committed to continue to talk to each other. We don’t think that the parties have the appetite to continue with this impasse for much longer.”

The companies said in a joint statement that they would “review further options available to them”, but gave no further details. – Sapa, Reuters

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