Implats strike enters second week, no talks planned

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said a strike at Impala Platinum, the world’s No. 2 producer, was likely to spread to the company’s metal refinery and workers were prepared to stay away for weeks or months.

The strike at Implats entered a second week on Monday. Fears grew on Friday that work could halt across the industry in the world’s top producer of the precious metal when workers at Anglo Platinum rejected a pay offer.

South Africa produces four fifths of the world’s platinum, which is mostly used in making catalytic converters to cut pollutants from car exhausts, and in jewellery. Anglo American Plc’s unit Angloplat supplies close to half of world platinum and Impala Platinum (Implats) 25%.

Lesiba Seshoka, spokesperson for the NUM — South Africa’s biggest union — said members at Implats’ refinery in Springs, east of Johannesburg, had been on the verge of joining the strike last week.

He said the workers would be emboldened after Implats failed on Friday to win a court order to stop the strike.

”We expect Springs to come on board this week after the court ruling declared that the strike was legal,” said Seshoka. ”Our strike is indefinite, until we get what we want, we can go on for weeks or even months. We can survive.”

Implats spokesperson Bob Gilmour said the Springs refinery was so far unaffected by the strike, and that no new talks with the NUM had been scheduled.

Analysts said the strike had not had a significant effect on the metal price because demand for cars was depressed in a sector hard hit by the financial crisis.

About 20 000 workers at Implats have been on strike since last Monday night at the company’s biggest mine in Rustenburg, and some workers at its Marula mine, which employs about 4 000, did not show up for work on Friday.

Workers demand a 14% wage hike — more than twice the inflation rate — plus transport and housing allowances. The company, facing rising costs, says it cannot afford that much and has offered 10%.

Seshoka said a mediating authority was trying to come up with a date for new talks between the parties.

Industry slump
Platinum fell to $1 238 an ounce at 06.56GMT from its close of $1 244. Car industry problems have weighed on the price. Last week Toyota Motor Corporation, the world’s largest carmaker, said it would cut capacity.

The strike at Implats has had a limited impact on South African financial markets. Wage talks in most sectors, including power, gold and coal, have already been settled.

Implats has so far lost up to 20 000 ounces in output due to the strike. The Rustenburg mine produces one million ounces a year and Marula 75 000 ounces. The company has said it is losing about 3 500 ounces a day at Rustenburg alone due to the strike.

The NUM’s members at Angloplat rejected an offer of a 10% raise for the lowest earners and demanded an 11% raise. The union has not issued a strike threat there yet, and said it plans to discuss pay demands with the firm on September 7.

Industrial action is also affecting production at smaller producers Platmin and Aquarius Platinum, which sacked striking workers. — 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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