Striking workers at mines operated by Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) kept the company guessing about whether they would call off the stoppage at a rally today.
Miners with the hardline Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) downed tools on Friday to protest plans by Amplats, the world’s largest producer of the precious metal, to cut 3 300 jobs to restore profits.
The strike is centred on Amplats mines near the town of Rustenburg in the restive platinum belt, where Amcu has poached tens of thousands of members from the once unrivalled National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in a bloody turf war that has killed dozens of people in the past 18 months.
Amcu activists have said they would strike until their demands were met. “We are going to continue with the strike until the company withdraws these forced retrenchments,” said Makhanya Siphamandla, an Amcu organiser in Rustenburg.
Dumisani Nkalitshana, the national organiser for Amcu, confirmed yesterday that the strike was continuing. He said the union was perplexed by the company’s decision to reject proposals from 2 000 employees who were due to retire soon and wanted to be considered for voluntary early retirement.
He claimed Amplats had been recruiting new permanent and contract workers but could not provide the numbers. “It’s not an issue of profit. They wanted to dismiss the workers [where they have closed a shaft].”
Amplats, a unit of global mining giant Anglo American which served the workers with lay-off notices on September 2, has backed away from an initial target of 14 000 job cuts after a backlash from the government and unions, including brief stoppages organised by Amcu.
Unlike those stoppages, the current action is legal and in keeping with a change of tactics by Amcu, which was behind a wave of wildcat strikes that rocked South Africa’s gold and platinum sectors last year.
Amplats chief executive Chris Griffith said stoppages could put more jobs at risk.
NUM is a key political ally of the ruling ANC government and its loss of members to Amcu has made the ruling party especially sensitive to worker anger in the mining shafts.
Amplats needs to find a path back to profitability given relatively poor global demand for the white metal used for building emissions-capping converters in automobiles.
Anglo American chief executive Mark Cutifani said in August that “nothing is sacrosanct” and the platinum unit would be removed from the portfolio if it did not deliver.
Coal producers and unions also meet today to hammer out wage agreements and avert strikes that could hit exports to Europe and Asia and supplies to power utility Eskom.
Platinum wage talks have hardly got off the ground and could lead to more strikes next month. This could help support the price as South Africa accounts for about 75 percent of global supplies of the commodity. – Reuters and Asha Speckman