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The first week of long-anticipated negotiations between platinum mining companies and the respective unions have begun with mining companies to respond to tabled demands next week - the quiet before the storm.

Major mining houses, Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum (Implats), Sibanye Stillwater as well as other junior miners received the varying demands from unions including with dominant player Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) as well as the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which is not represented at Implats.

“We have just tabled our demands for a R17 000 basic salary, R7 000 housing allowance and other conditions of employment that are part of the negotiations. This is only the first week and we will be getting responses from the mining companies next week,” Amcu’s national treasurer Jimmy Gama confirmed in an interview yesterday.

Gama said at this stage the union was tabling its proposals and clarifying points, but as in all negotiation processes, “cannot be too rigid or too flexible.” NUM conformed that it had tabled a 15 percent basic pay increase or R1 500 rise, whichever was greater, as it had different package demands at different mines. “We will be tabling our demands at the various companies all this week, including Sibanye Stillwater today. This is just the start of the process. We will have feedback once the companies start responding,” said NUM’s William Mabapa.

The wage talks are expected to be tough, as higher prices for palladium and rhodium and a weaker rand currency have boosted profits at miners such as Amplats, Sibanye - now combined with Lonmin - and Implats after several years of losses.

Amplats last month flagged that its half-year earnings were expected to rise by at least 80percent, boosted by the increased metal prices.

Amplats, the most profitable producer, expects to triple first-half net income to at least R6.1billion. The company has also rebuilt its cash position, after selling or shutting down higher-cost mines. Sibanye, Amplats and Implats all declined to comment on the size of their stockpiles of platinum group metals.

“It is no secret that the industry is in a difficult situation financially, we are restructuring and doing all we can to secure jobs. It will not be easy to find solutions to what the unions want, but if there is determination of being open and looking for solutions, we will find each other,” Implats spokesperson Johan Theron said.

Anglo American Platinum would not be drawn to comment on progress of the negotiations.

Analysts have warned that while unions might feel their demands are justified as higher palladium and rhodium prices boost company earnings, high settlements threaten the number of existing jobs and existence of the mines.

BUSINESS REPORT