South Africa: Strikes roil platinum prices

politics | Sep 29, 2012 | By Martin Barillas


More strikes have hit South Africa's mining industry, a week after striking workers at a platinum mine won a 22 percent pay raise. Workers walked off their jobs this week at mines run by AngloGold Ashanti, one of the world's largest gold producers.  The workers are reportedly demanding a pay raise in line with the workers at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana township.

Meanwhile, gold producer Village Main Reef says 1,700 of its workers failed to report to work for September 27 night shift as well as September 28 day shifts.  Also, mining firm Petmin said on September 28 that 345 of its workers at a coal mining subsidiary walked off their jobs.  Both companies said they are talking with workers and hoping to end the strikes peacefully. The Lonmin deal followed a clash between police and miners in which police shot dead 46 striking workers.  Earlier this month, union leaders said the Lomnin deal set a precedent for other miners. Striking miners have armed themselves with homemade traditional spears and machetes, defying the mineowners to dismiss or dislodge them.

On September 27, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the top producer of platinum, declared that it would begin disciplinary action against strikers and could dismiss them. So far, the strike is considered illegal. Four of Amplats' Rustenburg mines have been idled for over two weeks, thereby costing the company at least 20,000 ounces in lost output to date, or $33 million at current spot prices.Spot prices for platinum were up 1.4 percent at $1,665.74 an ounce.

Workers living in the slums on the periphery of Rustenburg, 70 miles from Johannesburg, say they will resist. Some said they are prepared to die in order to wrest concessions from the mine owners.  Miners at Amplats are seeking wage concessions as those secured by the strikers at Lonmin.  Violence broke out at the Amplats operation at Rustenberg in January and February during clashes between the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the National Union of Mineworkers. As a result, work stopped for six weeks.

Miners have received text messages from Amplats urging them to return to work. But the miners remain defiant. According to Reuters, text messages sent by Amplats tell  workers to attend a hearing on October 2 to argue why they should not be fired for taking part in an illegal strike. "Should you not make any representations, a decision will be made in your absence," the messages say.



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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