Impala Continues Rehiring Workers as Protesters Block Routes

Protesters blocked routes to Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd.’s Rustenburg operations in South Africa as miners tried to return to work following a four-week stoppage that cut global supplies by more than 100,000 ounces.

About 50 to 100 people, mostly youth, from the Luka township near Impala’s mine, northwest of Johannesburg, obstructed roads and a railway line from about 2 a.m., police spokesman Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said by phone. Police arrested 13 and fired rubber bullets to disperse a crowd of about 500, the South African Press Association reported.

“They are concerned because the community doesn’t benefit from the mine,” Ngubane said.

The strike has cost Impala, the world’s second-biggest producer of the metal, more than 2 billion rand ($267 million) of revenue. The company said yesterday it plans to commence restarting the world’s largest platinum mine on March 5. The Rustenburg mine accounts for about 12 percent of global output.

It may take three weeks or more to ramp up output, BMO Capital Markets said in an e-mailed note today.

“The Rustenburg mine workers are busy going back to work,” Sydwell Dokolwana, the regional secretary for the National Union of Mineworkers, which represents the majority of employees at the mine, said by mobile phone from Rustenburg.

Deadline Extended

About 20 people blocked a road with tires, which police ordered them to remove, Johan Theron, Impala’s head of personnel, said in an e-mailed response to questions. The protests didn’t disrupt operations or rehiring, he said.

Many of Impala’s workers are making their way back from the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Lesotho, and 13,500 people had returned to work by yesterday’s deadline to be reinstated with their previous benefits, Theron said. Impala plans to fill 15,000 jobs.

Impala and the union have agreed to extend yesterday’s deadline for fired miners to apply to be reinstated, though no specific time limit has been agreed to, Theron said in a separate e-mailed response to queries.

About 5,000 rock-drill operators walked out in January after they didn’t get a pay increase awarded to miners, disrupting production. More mineworkers then didn’t report for duty on Jan. 30, resulting in 17,200 being dismissed as the operation ground to a halt, raising global prices for the metal.

Four people were killed and at least 50 hurt in violent protests and attacks on employees who continued to go to work, according to police and the company. About 11,600 miners and 4,200 processing and services employees didn’t participate in the work stoppage.

Impala shares declined 0.6 percent to 166.13 rand by the close in Johannesburg. Platinum advanced 0.7 percent to $1,691 an ounce, extending its increase this year to 21 percent.

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