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New mining minister steps up strike intervention

South Africa’s new mining minister called on the nation’s treasury and labour departments to assist in ending a four-month strike over pay that’s crippled local operations of the world’s three largest platinum producers.

The government team set up by minister of Mineral Resources Ngoako Ramatlhodi, who took office two days ago, will meet officials from Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin on Thursday as well as representatives from the main union at their operations, his department said in a statement on its website. This follows talks with producers on Wednesday and the union on Tuesday.

More than 70 000 members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) have been on a pay strike since January 23. The industry’s longest and costliest stoppage saw its economic contribution drop the most in 47 years in the first quarter, resulting in the first contraction in gross domestic product since a 2009 recession, according to Statistics South Africa.

“All parties are hurting,” Ramatlhodi said in the statement. “We have no option but to find an amicable solution.” The parties will “explore all possibilities for a resolution” tomorrow and “report back by the end of the day on what is possible,” Ramatlhodi said.

Talks between employers and the union mediated by a labour-court judge failed to result in an agreement, imperiling the second-largest economy on the continent.

Mediation stop
“It appears like the mediation has come to a stop yesterday,” Ramatlhodi told Talk Radio 702 separately on Wednesday morning. He took over the mines portfolio from Susan Shabangu, who was appointed to the position by President Jacob Zuma in 2009.

Amcu wants R12 500 in basic monthly pay excluding benefits by 2017 for entry-level underground employees. The demands equate to a 30% increase in the first year of a deal, which employers say is unaffordable. They’re offering raises of as much as 10% annually. South African inflation was 6.1% in April.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa and Charmane Russell, a spokesperson for the companies at Russell & Associates, declined to comment on the court-brokered talks when contacted by phone.

The strike cost the companies 471 720 ounces of production in the first quarter. The producers have lost R20-billion of revenue and workers R8.9-billion in wages, the employers said on a joint website they set up.

Aid distribution
Food and supplies such as diapers will be handed out to mineworkers at the Khomanani shaft of Amplats, as the biggest producer is known, Gift of the Givers Foundation, a Pietermaritzburg-based aid group, said by email.

It has distributed about 7 000 food packs, hot meals and about R3-million of medical aid in the platinum-rich Rustenburg area, about 120 kilometers northwest of Johannesburg.

Houses belonging to two members of the minority National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which hasn’t joined the strike, were attacked with gasoline bombs last night near Amplats’s Union mines, the labour organisation said in an emailed statement.

“We do not know whose house will be petrol-bombed tonight,” NUM Union mine branch chairperson Steve Modimokwane said in the statement.

Police have confirmed several attacks and deaths in the past four months and promised to step up security for employees wishing to go to work.– Bloomberg

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Andre Janse
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Van Vuuren
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