Platinum mines set for Amcu strikes

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Joseph Mathunjwa, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union president, received a resounding welcome at the Olympia Park Stadium in Rustenburg yesterday. Photo: Timothy Bernard

Johannesburg - About 15 000 members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) voted in favour of a strike at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) at a mass meeting in Olympia Park Stadium in Rustenburg yesterday.

The vote, along with strike notices that are to be served on other platinum and gold mines, is expected to bring a large portion of the country’s mining sector to a halt from Thursday.

Joseph Mathunjwa, the president of Amcu, said after the vote: “We are going to issue 48-hour strike notices to the bosses tomorrow [today] so that we can tell them we are going on strike. The first day of the strike will be during the first shift on Thursday… ayingeni [no work].“

If the three (platinum) mines are on strike, in London they must open a platinum mine because South Africa produces 85 percent of the world’s platinum,” said Mathunjwa, adding that South Africa should set the price of platinum instead of being a price taker.

The strike in the platinum sector and on some gold mines, which will start with the morning shift on January 23, will weigh heavily on South Africa’s credit ratings. Analysts said a prolonged strike would probably put severe pressure on the profits of mining houses.

It will also put Amcu, the biggest union in the platinum sector, in the spotlight for holding out for more money at Amplats after the company signed an 8.5 percent wage settlement with minority unions the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Solidarity, and Uasa last year.

Amcu members clad in union T-shirts, who were bussed to the venue, stood up in unison when Mathunjwa called for all who supported the strike to raise their hands. Members also responded with raised fists and blew vuvuzelas to show approval of a strike for a R12 500 a month minimum wage.

Earlier, union members sang “Nizolelwa ngubani? Nizomelwa ngubani? [Who will fight for you? Who will defend you?]” as Mathunjwa walked around the stadium to greet members. Mathunjwa, who was flanked by white bodyguards, received a hero’s welcome after arriving in a new grey Lexus car.

Amcu members at Lonmin and Impala Platinum had previously voted to strike, but the union had not previously disclosed when it would issue a 48-hour strike notice. The union received certificates of non-resolution from the Commission of Conciliation, Arbitration and Mediation for Amplats, Lonmin and Impala Platinum after members rejected wage increase offers of about 8 percent.

Mining companies have said they cannot afford the R12 500 wage as they grapple with increased cost pressures, including electricity and labour, and a softer metal price.

The majority union at Northam Platinum, the NUM, on Friday agreed to a wage increase of up to 9.5 percent, bringing to an end a 75-day strike at the Zondereinde mine.

Amcu will also target strikes at gold operations including Sibanye Gold and Harmony Gold’s Kusasalethu mine, where it is the majority.

“The producers would seek recourse through the courts as there is a valid agreement in place and the strike would, in our view, be unprocedural,” Charmane Russell, a spokeswoman for the Chamber of Mines at Russell & Associates, said in an e-mail yesterday.

“It may be worth understanding that a number of gold producers have either completed or are in the process of section 189 processes.

“The industry remains under significant pressure. Any strike action would harm the profitability of the industry, call into question the viability of more shafts, and place further jobs at risk.”

The strike was bad news for the rand and South Africa’s credit ratings, analysts said. “In terms of credit ratings, this will have a negative effect. The rand is sensitive to labour unrest, and we might see it hitting R11 against the dollar,” said Sibonginkosi Nyanga, an analyst at Imara SP Reid.

The rand was bid at R10.8535 to the dollar at 5pm on Friday.

Platinum shares strengthened on the day following platinum price gains. Impala Platinum shares closed 2.75 percent up at R120.06, Lonmin was up 1.64 percent at R56.30, and Amplats closed 2.73 percent up at R405.81. – Additional reporting by Bloomberg


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