Amplats sues striking union over damage

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Independent Newspapers.

Picture: Timothy Bernard.

Johannesburg - Anglo American Platinum is suing a South African union that is on strike at the world’s largest producers of the metal and said pressure is growing on the labour group over its three-week walkout.

More than 70,000 Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union members have been on strike since January 23 at Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin.

They are demanding that monthly wages for the lowest-paid underground workers be more than doubled.

Amplats, as the Johannesburg-based company is known, is suing the Amcu for 591 million rand, spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole said yesterday.

The company is claiming for damage to property, increased security costs and production losses caused by non-striking employees being prevented from going to work, Sithole said.

Combined lost revenue at the three companies has reached about $315 million, with strikers giving up $140 million in pay, a spokesman for the producers said in a statement.

South Africa accounts for about 70 percent of global production of the metal used in jewellry and catalytic converters for vehicles.

Amplats is producing 5,000 ounces a day and has lost more than 60,000 ounces valued at 1.5 billion rand, chief executive Chris Griffith said at a presentation during parent Anglo American’s results in London yesterday.

“We are still selling stock. We sold just over 200,000 ounces in January so we continue our sales because of the stock we built up.”

 

Prolonged Strike

 

Impala Platinum is preparing for the strike to last until May as talks to resolve the deadlock make little progress, Johan Theron, a spokesman for the Johannesburg-based company, said by phone.

“It was always important to see if the parties could make some headway during the first three weeks” of the walkout, Theron said.

The Amcu “hasn’t moved a centimetre.”

The Amcu may be losing members as workers face a second month without pay, Chris Griffith at Amplats said.

“The pressure against Amcu is rising from all different scenarios.”

Lonmin yesterday won a court order requiring the Amcu to comply with picketing rules at its Marikana mine, the company said in a statement.

“Lonmin is aware of a handful of allegations of violence towards, and intimidation of, employees in recent days. The strike at Marikana has thus far been peaceful and the company regards these developments with great concern.”

 

Talks Postponed

 

Talks scheduled for yesterday between the Amcu and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration were delayed to February 17, the mediator said in a statement.

Union negotiators were preparing for the funeral of an Amcu official killed during a protest at Amplats’s Union mine on February 7, union leader Joseph Mathunjwa said by phone.

Mathunjwa’s union has displaced the National Union of Mineworkers as the dominant labour force on South Africa’s platinum belt, winning support partly through its aggressive wage demands. It wants pay for entry-level workers to rise to 12,500 rand and has rejected an offer for increases of as much as 9 percent made in mediated talks.

The NUM is critical of the Amcu’s tactics, arguing they will lead to job cuts.

“When you get stuck in saying just 12,500, nothing less, nothing more, I don’t regard that as negotiations or as the way to find a settlement,” Senzeni Zokwana, president of the NUM, said in a phone interview this week.

Zokwana is the second president of the union, founded in 1982.

 

Rubber Bullets

 

The only way the companies can recoup the money lost during the strike will be through cutting jobs, he said.

“Since 1987, whenever we take a longer strike, the outcome of the longer strike will be the application of section 189, which will result in job losses.”

The legislation covers the firing of workers because of reduced operational needs.

The death of the Amcu organiser a week ago during protests at Amplats followed other strike violence.

Police fired rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse a crowd of 3,000 at Amplats’ Khuseleka mine on February 4.

Impala sent non-striking workers on paid leave after employees were blocked from reporting for duty, Theron said February 3.

At least 44 people, including 34 killed by police in a single day, died during weeks of protests at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in August 2012.

South African President Jacob Zuma this week called for an end to violent mining strikes and street protests.

“In no way can we have conflict that destroys the economy,” Zuma said in his state-of-the-nation speech to Parliament in Cape Town on February 13.

“When protests threaten lives and property and destroy valuable infrastructure intended to serve the community, they undermine the very democracy that upholds the right to protest.” - Bloomberg News


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