By Amogelang Mbatha, Franz Wild and Tshepiso Mokhema
Johannesburg - South Africa wouldn’t take sides in a wage strike that halted output at the largest platinum mines for more than six weeks, President Jacob Zuma said.
“We should not be subjective about our own positions,” Zuma said on Thursday. “Government is talking to both sides so we can find an amicable solution.”
Members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) marched on government offices in Pretoria on Thursday as part of the labour group’s call for basic monthly pay to be more than doubled. Talks between striking workers and Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Impala Platinum Holdings (Implats) and Lonmin, which together account for more than two-thirds of all the platinum mined globally, collapsed on Wednesday after a state mediator said the parties remained far apart.
Amcu wants pay for entry-level miners to rise to R12 500 from about R5 000. More than 70 000 members of the union have been on strike since January 23. Producers say they have lost a combined $680 million (R7 billion) in revenue and that employees have forfeited more than $300m since the walkout started.
The union said it would not back down from its demand as it handed a memorandum to an official in Zuma’s office at the Union Buildings on Thursday. The labour group called in the document for the resignation of Mines Minister Susan Shabangu, who it accused of “incompetence”, and said employers should change their position on pay.
“Our demands were submitted with blood on the mountain in Marikana,” Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa told protesters at the Union Buildings. He was referring to a strike at the mines of Lonmin during which at least 44 people died in 2012. “There is no way we are turning back on it.”
Lonmin, the third-largest producer, wouldn’t meet its full-year sales target of at least 750 000 ounces of the precious metal because of the strike, it said this week. The company said it couldn’t estimate the increase in costs caused by the walkout.
The price of platinum, used for jewellery and car catalytic converters to reduce emissions, has climbed 8.3 percent this year. Platinum fixed at $1 474 an ounce in London in the afternoon on Friday.
The mediator, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), said on Wednesday that it “has decided to adjourn the process to give all parties an opportunity to reflect on their respective positions”.
The companies have offered to raise entry-level wages, which range from R5 000 to R5 700 a month, to as much as R7 200 by next year. On Tuesday, Amcu said it would give the companies three years to meet its minimum target after first demanding immediate increases to that level. The producers said the demand remained unaffordable.
Amplats is “discouraged by the turn of events”, chief executive Chris Griffith said on Wednesday. “We are hopeful though that Amcu will come to recognise and appreciate the realities of the company’s position and will work toward a solution that will benefit its members.”
Impala declined for the first time in five days in Johannesburg, losing 0.43 percent to R116.50. Amplats dropped 1.53 percent to R449.69. Lonmin slid 2.06 percent to R53.13.
A Johannesburg court on Thursday dismissed an application to hold Amcu and its leaders in contempt for allegedly ignoring a January order that the union’s leaders prevent violence during the strike.
Amplats brought the application after an Amcu official was killed in clashes with police and two others were arrested for the attempted murder of a company employee last month.
“It would be naive to think that in the context of industrial action, parties do not resort to litigation as a means to an end,” Judge Andre van Niekerk said in an e-mailed copy of his judgment. “There is a fine line between seeking tactical advantage through litigation and abuse of process, but it is a line that parties ought to respect.”
The National Union of Mineworkers, which is not on strike, said another one of its members was attacked early on Thursday on his way to Amplats’ Union mine. – Bloomberg