Union wants Implats workers to end strike

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said on Friday it wants workers at Impala Platinum, the world’s number two producer of the metal, to abandon their pay strike and return to work.

The strike turned violent on Thursday evening after some workers attacked union leaders who tried to convince them to accept the company’s latest pay offer and go back to work, badly injuring a top union official who is still in hospital.

Impala Platinum (Implats) said on Friday there was still no output at Implats’ biggest mine, Rustenburg, which has about 20 000 workers. But its smaller Marula mine had returned to work.

The company’s metal refinery in Springs, east of Johannesburg, is not affected by the strike.

The strike at Implats, which supplies a quarter of the world’s platinum, is in its second week after it started on August 24. Union leaders believe the company will not budge from its latest offer and that prolonged strike action is futile.

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.

The strike has scarcely affected platinum prices, largely because of a slump in the car manufacturing sector.

The union tried to ward off concern that the strike could sweep across South Africa’s platinum sector after workers at Anglo Platinum also rejected a pay offer.

No further formal wage talks are planned, after talks this week failed to bridge the divide, the union said.

”The purpose of that [Thursday’s] meeting was to persuade the workers to abandon the strike,” said NUM’s general secretary Frans Baleni.

”We, as leaders, will meet this weekend to discuss what steps we can take, and we plan a further meeting with the workers to persuade them to abandon the strike.”

Although the strike at the platinum miner is protected by law, the workers are normally not paid while on a strike.

Pete Matosa, the NUM’s deputy president, was injured in the attack, after he was stoned and beaten, he said.

Implats, facing lower earnings and rising costs, has offered a 10% pay rise, saying it cannot afford the worker’s demand of a 14% increase, which is more than twice South Africa’s inflation rate of 6,7%. The gold, coal and power sectors have agreed to raise wages by about 10%.

”Marula, Springs and Rustenburg’s processing plant are happy with 10%, it will end up at that figure,” Implats’ spokesperson Bob Gilmour said.

A final round of wage talks at Anglo Platinum, the number two producer of the precious metal, which is a unit of Anglo American Plc, is due on September 7.

”We start talks on Monday on a salary increase, the minimum wage and housing allowance, but it’s not in our interest to call a strike, we don’t enjoy going on strike,” Oupa Komane, the NUM’s deputy secretary general told Reuters.

Implats has so far lost more than 20 000 ounces due to the strike. Its Rustenburg mine produces one million ounces a year.

Analysts say that above-inflation pay settlements across the gold, coal, power and other sectors, including in government will dent profit, and may jeopardise any recovery in Africa’s biggest economy from its first recession in 17 years. – 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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