Picture: Timothy Bernard.

Johannesburg - Impala Platinum said it’s preparing for the strike that has shut South Africa’s biggest mines to last until May as talks to resolve the deadlock over pay make little progress.

More than 70,000 Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union members have been on strike since January 23 at Anglo American Platinum, Impala and Lonmin, the world’s three largest producers.

They are demanding that monthly wages for the lowest-paid underground workers be more than doubled to 12,500 rand.

The union rejected an offer for increases of as much as 9 percent made in mediated talks.

The likelihood of a protracted strike is increasing, Johan Theron, a spokesman for Johannesburg-based Impala, said today by phone.

“It was always important to see if the parties could make some headway during the first three weeks” of the walkout, he said.

The Amcu “hasn’t moved a centimetre.”

Talks scheduled for today between the Amcu and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration have been delayed to February 17, the mediator said in an e-mailed statement.

Union negotiators have joined preparations for the funeral of an Amcu official killed during a protest at Anglo American Platinum’s Union mine on February 7, union leader Joseph Mathunjwa said by phone.

Lost Sales

The CCMA met with employers yesterday.

“The pace of such processes cannot be hurried,” Nerine Kahn, a director at the mediator, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

Combined lost revenue at the three companies has reached about $315 million (R3.5 billion), with strikers giving up $140 million in pay, a spokesman for the producers said in an e-mailed statement today.

South Africa accounts for about 70 percent of global production of the metal used in jewellry and catalytic converters for vehicles.

Mathunjwa’s union has displaced the National Union of Mineworkers as the dominant labor force on South Africa’s platinum belt, winning support partly through its aggressive wage demands.

The NUM is critical of the Amcu’s tactics, arguing they will lead to job cuts.

“When you get stuck in saying just 12,500, nothing less, nothing more, I don’t regard that as negotiations or as the way to find a settlement,” Senzeni Zokwana, president of the NUM, said in a phone interview yesterday.

Zokwana is the second president of the union, founded in 1982.

Rubber Bullets

The only way the companies can recoup the money lost during the strike will be through cutting jobs, he said.

“Since 1987, whenever we take a longer strike, the outcome of the longer strike will be the application of section 189, which will result in job losses.”

The legislation covers the firing of workers because of reduced operational needs.

The death of an Amcu organiser a week ago during protests at Anglo American Platinum, or Amplats, followed other strike violence.

Police fired rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse a crowd of 3,000 at Amplats’ Khuseleka mine on February 4.

Impala sent non-striking workers on paid leave after employees were blocked from reporting for duty, Theron said February 3.

“We’re concerned, because if nothing is being done at Anglo Platinum, then the same intimidation can be used as well at Lonmin, because if you’re not deterred from doing things that are unconstitutional, then law can’t prevail,” the NUM’s Zokwana said.

At least 44 people, including 34 killed by police in a single day, died during weeks of protests at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in August 2012.

South African President Jacob Zuma yesterday called for an end to violent mining strikes and street protests.

“In no way can we have conflict that destroys the economy,” Zuma said in his state-of-the-nation speech to Parliament in Cape Town.

“When protests threaten lives and property and destroy valuable infrastructure intended to serve the community, they undermine the very democracy that upholds the right to protest.” - Bloomberg News