Striking South African miners open talks with platinum firms

Striking miners demanding a 150 per cent wage increase have entered into negotiations with the world's top three platinum producers in Johannesburg

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 January, 2014, 4:17pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 January, 2014, 4:17pm

South Africa’s main platinum union started government-brokered talks with the world’s top three platinum companies on Friday to end a wage strike that risked turning violent.

As many as 100,000 members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) walked out at Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum (Implats) and Lonmin on Thursday, hitting more than half of world platinum production.

Implats said on Friday striking workers were blocking miners who wanted to report for work at its operations near Rustenburg, 120 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg.

“Never a good situation as it raises tension and the risk for potential violence,” Implats spokesman Johan Theron said.

However, in Johannesburg AMCU leaders started talks at 9am with the three firms under the auspices of South Africa’s main commercial arbitration body, labour ministry spokesman Musi Zondi said.

“Obviously it would be good if something positive were to come out of it,” he said.

The meeting is the first time the big three platinum producers have negotiated with the union under one roof.

The government has stepped in to mediate in the dispute, fearful of damage to an already struggling economy and the political standing of President Jacob Zuma’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, which faces an election in just over three months.

Despite its efforts, the government has been unable to soothe nearly two years of tensions in the platinum belt, where miners are angry about their lack of economic progress two decades after the end of apartheid.

The AMCU-affiliated workers say they will not call off the strike until their demand for a 12,500 rand (HK$8,860) a month minimum basic wage are met. Basic wages for miners are currently about 5,000 rand.

“There is nothing that can change our demands,” prominent AMCU member Evans Ramokga told reporters.