Platinum Talks Today Will Seek End to Pay Strike Crippling Mines

Jan 23, 2014 5:00 pm ET

Jan. 24 (Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s government and union officials will meet today to try to resolve a strike that’s crippling mines run by the three biggest platinum producers.

Labor Minister Mildred Oliphant will lead talks between Anglo American Platinum Ltd., Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. and Lonmin Plc and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, said Musa Zondi, her spokesman. The discussions are due to begin at 9 a.m. in Johannesburg.

The companies should expect “marathon negotiations,” AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa said by telephone.

At least 70,000 employees downed tools at platinum mines yesterday in South Africa, home to 70 percent of the world’s production of the metal, causing about $13.1 million a day in lost revenue. The police force stepped up safety measures as it sought to avoid a repeat of labor unrest that claimed the lives of at least 44 workers near platinum mines in August 2012.

The AMCU, the biggest representative of workers at the mines, has said it will continue the walkout until pay demands are met. The union wants wages for the lowest-paid entry-level miners to be more than doubled to 12,500 rand ($1,134) a month. South Africa’s inflation rate was 5.4 percent in December.

“We welcome the efforts from government to mediate and close the difference between the parties,” said Johan Theron, a spokesman for Impala.

Rand Decline

The rand declined 1.1 percent to 10.9926 per dollar by 6:59 p.m. yesterday in Johannesburg. The platinum producers incur most of their costs in the South African currency, which has depreciated 23 percent since the start of the year against the dollar, in which platinum is priced.

Hundreds of striking employees wielding fighting sticks and machetes and singing protest songs marched at Impala’s Rustenburg mines. Members of the National Union of Mineworkers, which has been displaced by the AMCU as the biggest labor representative at platinum mines, flocked to the NUM’s offices for safety after being prevented from reporting for duty.

“Non-striking workers are encouraged to report for work on day-shifts only” to mitigate the risk of possible intimidation and violence, Johannesburg-based Impala, the second-biggest platinum producer, said in a statement. About 10 percent of employees reported for duty at the company, which will lose about 2,800 ounces a day through the stoppage.

Platinum is used in jewelry and catalytic converters that reduce harmful emissions from vehicles.

Lost Production

Lonmin will lose about 3,100 ounces of platinum a day because of the strike, the company said. Anglo American Platinum, which hasn’t provided a figure, lost about 3,100 ounces a day during a similar walkout in October. The 9,000 ounces of lost platinum between the three companies equates to about $13.1 million of revenue based on yesterday’s spot price.

Platinum for immediate delivery rose 0.2 percent to $1,464.49 an ounce yesterday in Johannesburg. Anglo American Platinum, or Amplats, gained 2.3 percent to close at 442.01 rand. Impala climbed 1.4 percent to 127.55 rand. Lonmin was little changed at 320.9 pence in London.

The AMCU’s plan to start a strike at South African gold mines yesterday was delayed after a Johannesburg labor court postponed a ruling on whether the stoppage would be classed as protected. A protected strike means workers can down tools without being fired or disciplined.

All gold mines operated normally yesterday, Charmane Russell, a spokeswoman for South Africa’s Chamber of Mines at Russell & Associates, said by text message. The Johannesburg- based chamber represents the gold companies.

Sibanye Gold Ltd. said a fire broke out at its Driefontein mine and employees were apprehended after they were found sabotaging a train line, derailing tramming equipment. The company will claim damages from unions should it be found that their members were the perpetrators, it said in a statement.

A gold strike by the AMCU would affect AngloGold Ashanti Ltd.’s operations, Harmony Gold Mining Co.’s Kusasalethu and Masimong mines, and Driefontein.

--With assistance from Mike Cohen in Cape Town. Editors: Ana Monteiro, Amanda Jordan