Strike halts work at Implats mine

The world’s number two platinum producer, Impala Platinum, said on Tuesday a strike by workers had halted its largest operation in South Africa, and it was unclear how long the industrial action would last.

The strike by 10 000 workers at Impala Platinum (Implats) ignored a weekend call by the mine workers’ union to suspend threatened action.

It could also push up prices of the precious metal used in catalytic converters to remove pollutants from car exhausts, and in jewellery. South Africa produces four-fifths of the world’s platinum.

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 annual pay round.

The strike will affect output from Implats in South Africa, and hurt investor sentiment in a sector already hard hit by the financial crisis.

Implats said it was unaware of the reason for the strike at its main Rustenburg mine, which followed an improved pay offer to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

The union said on Sunday it had suspended an indefinite strike on Implats to consult its members on the new wage offer. So far, the NUM — South Africa’s biggest union — said the first results of a ballot of workers showed a split over whether to accept an improved wage offer to avert a strike.

On Tuesday, the NUM said some members were angry at the delay by Implats in making its latest pay offer. Some members rejected the pay rise as not enough.

Implats said the strike was made worse by the fact that no demands had been made of management by the striking workers, and said the work stoppage appeared to be related to communication between the union and its members.

”Implats confirms that there is a work stoppage at the company’s Rustenburg operations. The stoppage involves most underground employees,” the company said in a statement.

Strike hurts output
Implats spokesperson Bob Gilmour said the strike at Rustenburg — which produces about one million ounces a year — had affected production as well as processing of mined ore.

”It seems the strike is due to a bit of miscommunication between the union and its members,” Gilmour said. ”The last we knew was the union was consulting its members on the latest wage offer, now we have this action.”

Implats’ pay offer met two key NUM demands, handing it a one-year wage agreement with a pay rise of 10% for all workers. But some members now wanted a 13% increase.

”About 10 000 workers are on strike at the Rustenburg mine and smelter. They are angry that the company offered a pay increase late in the negotiations, and some are asking for a 13% wage increase,” the NUM’s spokesperson, Lesiba Seshoka, said.

”Even though the NUM had officially suspended the strike pending consultations over the new pay offer by the company, some workers decided to go on strike. We shall try to talk to them, and see if they can agree to go back to work,” he said.

The union has about 18 000 members at Implats. Implats said its Marula and refining operations were running normally. — Reuters

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James Macharia
James Macharia works from Johannesburg via Nairobi. Reuters Bureau Chief Southern Africa, ex-deputy chief East Africa. My views. James Macharia has over 5484 followers on Twitter.

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