JOHANNESBURG – As Sibanye-Stillwater's Lonmin takeover cleared the final regulatory hurdle on Friday, the platinum producer and its peers now face the challenge of wage negotiations.

Lonmin, which was at the heart of a five-month unprotected strike in 2012 that saw more than 44 people killed in violent clashes in Marikana, said its trading on the JSE and London bourses would be suspended today after the scheme through which the merger would be implemented became effective on Friday.

Lonmin is expected to delist from the bourses at the end of the month, while the new Sibanye-Stillwater shares are scheduled to start trading on Thursday, June 13.

Sibanye-Stillwater has become one of the world’s leading platinum producers after shareholders approved the takeover of Lonmin, the world’s third-biggest platinum producer, last month.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), whose legal bid to prevent the merger suffered a major blow last month when the Competition Appeal Court dismissed its appeal, said it would have the upper hand in the upcoming wage talks.

Amcu in April abandoned its five-month strike at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold operations after a court ruling paved the way for the company to do so.

Jimmy Gama, the national treasurer of Amcu, the biggest union in the platinum industry, said on Friday that the union was finalising its wage demands ahead of the upcoming platinum wage talks.

“The wage talks are due in two weeks’ time. You need to understand that the gold and platinum sectors are different. They operate differently. We have the upper hand in the platinum belt, because we have the majority. In the gold sector, we are a marginal union; we do not have the majority,” said Gama.

It is likely to be difficult for platinum producers to plead poverty, as they have been boosted by record palladium and rhodium prices and the weak rand.

After bleeding cash for a decade and closing several shafts, the rally in palladium and rhodium prices has helped Impala Platinum, Anglo American Platinum, Lonmin, Sibanye-Stillwater and Northam Platinum to rake in profits.

Palladium, which is used in car catalysts, has been climbing since August amid increasing industrial demand. The palladium price, which is at $1338 (R19968) an ounce, surpassed the price of gold this year. The rhodium price doubled during 2017 to a six-year high of more than $1700 an ounce.

Despite the rally in prices, challenges have emerged in some operations where Amcu is the majority union, including Anglo American Platinum’s Amandelbult mine in the North West.

Amandelbult has suffered operational challenges, including electrical breakdowns, which were exacerbated by Eskom load shedding in March.

On Friday, Lonmin shares closed 2 percent higher at R14.80, while Sibanye-Stillwater shares closed 1.64 percent higher at R14.83.

BUSINESS REPORT