Picture: Timothy Bernard.

Johannesburg - The world’s biggest platinum producers and the union leading a strike resumed wage talks as South African police used rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse a crowd at an Anglo American Platinum mine.

“About 3,000 mineworkers were gathered there with the intention of not letting any mineworker go to work and we tried to resolve it amicably and we had to resort to minimum force,” Thulani Ngubane, a spokesman for the South African Police Service in the North West province, said by phone today.

The crowd was cleared and two people were arrested at the Khuseleka mine, which is northwest of Johannesburg, he said.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, representing more than 70,000 members as the main labor group in the platinum belt, is meeting Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin in Pretoria.

The union, on strike since January 23, wants monthly basic pay be more than doubled to 12,500 rand.

The walkouts are costing South Africa about $36 million daily, the Chamber of Mines said.

“The wage increases that are demanded by AMCU, specifically the 12,500 rand, are unaffordable for the industry and will push more of the industry into loss-making territory, which clearly is not in the interests of anyone,” Roger Baxter, chief operations officer at the chamber, said at the Investing in African Mining Indaba conference in Cape Town.

While Anglo American Platinum, also known as Amplats, Impala and Lonmin are losing about 200 million rand of revenue daily, the total cost to the country is double that, according to Baxter.

About 40 percent of South Africa’s platinum industry is marginal or unprofitable at current prices, he said.


CCMA Proposal


The country’s Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, a consultant to the talks, made a proposal for the companies and unions to consider, it said in a February 1 statement.

The mediated proposition could form the basis of a final settlement, the CCMA said.

“I think it will allow the parties to engage more in an attempt to solve the strike,” AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa said by phone, referring to the talks.

The union will hear from the companies about whether they agree to the proposals, he said.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, the largest labor group at Anglo American Platinum’s refineries and smelters, joined the strike yesterday, Steve Nhlapo, an organiser for the union, said by phone.

Numsa is demanding pay increases of as much as 10 percent for higher-skilled employees and a raise of at least 2,500 rand monthly for the lowest-paid.


Police, Arrests


“We’re not part of the Pretoria talks, they will have to set up a meeting,” Nhlapo said, referring to Amplats, an Anglo American Plc unit.

Impala is sending workers who have been reporting for their shifts on leave in response to the strike, Johan Theron, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail yesterday.

Employees attempting to report for duty have been blocked, prompting police intervention, he said.

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

That unrest stemmed from a wave of strikes that started in platinum and spread to other mines last year.

“We have police on the ground where people have been arrested when they become involved in acts of violence,” Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu said at a press conference in Cape Town.

“We have seen there is more compliance by the unions in making sure that they strike and march peacefully.” - Bloomberg News