Picture: Boxer Ngwenya.

Johannesburg - Members of Northam Platinum Ltd.’s largest union rejected a new pay offer, prolonging a two-month-long strike at its Zondereinde mine in northern South Africa, even as the two sides move nearer to an agreement.

“It’s just a matter of time,” Ecliff Tantsi, chief negotiator for National Union of Mineworkers at the operations, said by phone after meeting members.

“I think we’re very close.” Northam has improved its previous wage offer to 9.5 percent from 8 percent to 9 percent, he said.

The NUM, which represents about 80 percent of Zondereinde workers, on January 7 lowered its wage-increase demand to as much as 1,900 rand ($175) a month within two years, along with improved housing benefits.

The entry-level wage at the mine is 5,300 rand a month, according to the union.

The NUM’s earlier demand for an average pay increase of 16 percent and a 69 percent jump in the allowance for living off site, was “unaffordable for the company and out of kilter with the settlements reached in the gold sector and at a number of other platinum producers,” Northam said January 6.

The strike has cost the company at least 500 million rand in revenue and workers at least 100 million rand in wages.

“In order to recover, there may be another two weeks of losses” for Northam once the strike ends as it retrains workers and restores production, Justin Froneman, an equity analyst at SBG, a unit of Standard Bank Group Ltd. in Johannesburg, said in a January 8 interview.

Northam’s stock, which has gained 1.5 percent since the strike started November 3, has been “resilient” Froneman said.

“In platinum group metals, they’re regarded as one of the strongest management teams.”

NUM members have made a counter proposal and will present it to the company today, Tantsi said. - Bloomberg News