Amplats' South African mines hit by wildcat strike

Union wants sacked leaders rehired, no more job cuts

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) — Operations at two Anglo American Platinum mines in South Africa ground to a halt on July 8 as 5,600 employees embarked on a wildcat strike, the company said, the latest such action to hit the industry.

Amplats said employees at its Thembelani and Khuseleka 1 mines were demanding it rehire 19 shop stewards with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) dismissed last week for orchestrating an illegal protest that prevented other workers from returning to the suface from their shift in the mines.

South Africa's platinum belt has been rocked by a violent turf war between AMCU and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) which killed more than 50 people last year and triggered credit downgrades for Africa's largest economy.

Amplats said the striking miners were further insisting it suspends plans to cut up to 6,000 jobs in a bid to restore profits after the world's top platinum producer, a unit of Anglo American, suffered a loss last year.

"They are also demanding that the company should provide a guarantee that the (rival union) NUM will not be allowed to return to the operations," said spokeswoman Bongeka Lwana.

The NUM has reported incidents of intimidation at platinum mines across the Rustenburg area where it is struggling to win back thousands of members lost to AMCU.

AMCU last week refused to sign a government-brokered stability pact aimed at defusing tensions in the mining industry ahead of tough wage talks this month and elections next year.

AMCU is demanding Amplats more than double the monthly pay of entry-level underground workers to 12,500 rand ($1,200), an increase the company can ill afford.

The exact cost of the demands made by AMCU are hard to pin down because Amplats, unlike rivals Impala Platinum and Lonmin, does not disclose its minimum wage for entry-level miners.

NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka told Reuters Amplats' basic wage is the lowest in the sector, which would probably put it between 4,000 and 4,500 rand a month.

The basic cash wage is not the only benefit workers receive or the only labour-related cost to the company, but it is usually the starting point for wage talks.

Amplats shares have fallen by more than 35 per cent this year while the price of platinum has dropped by nearly 13 per cent.

South Africa's gold producers are also struggling and the precious metal's sharp fall this year, combined with surging costs and the prospect of strikes, herald the end to an industry that has produced a third of the world's bullion.

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