Amplats Says All Mines Operating as Unions Call for Discipline
Anglo American Platinum Ltd. (AMS) said its mines are running as usual after a group of workers threatened to strike if the world’s biggest producer of the metal refuses to drop proposals to cut as many as 6,000 jobs.
“Everything is normal,” Mpumi Sithole, a spokeswoman for Amplats, as the Johannesburg-based Anglo American Plc (AAL) unit is known, said by phone today. “Our employees have clocked in for work and have gone underground.”
Amplats last week pared back plans to cut jobs at its South African operations to 6,000 from as many as 14,000 announced on Jan. 15 as the company seeks to return to profit. While leaders of unions representing about three-quarters of Amplats workers have asked employees not to strike, some miners have said they will stay away should the company not abandon the job cuts.
Producers in South Africa, which has the biggest known reserves of the metal, are struggling with higher costs as strikes drive above-inflation wage increases at a time of waning platinum demand. The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union is the biggest representative of Amplats workers at 41 percent.
“We have said time and again that we as AMCU haven’t called any strike at Anglo American Platinum and we are not intending to do so if the strike is illegal,” Treasurer Jimmy Gama said by phone. “We will do everything possible within the ambit of the Labour Relations Act to protect job losses for our members.”
Evans Ramokga, an AMCU member, told Johannesburg-based SAFM radio that a group of workers at a Khomanani mine, one of three that Amplats may close as part of its restructuring plan, will strike if the company doesn’t find an alternative to job losses. Ramokga said he was representing an unrecognized group of employees comprising members of various unions.
Any worker representative speaking as an individual “doesn’t reflect the views of AMCU,” Gama said. Disciplining members is a decision of the national executive committee, which will look at the “intent that member has made in putting the name of the organization into disrepute,” he said.
Amplats Chief Executive Officer Chris Griffith on May 10 said the company would take the revised plan to unions, and expects to conclude consulations in two to three months.
“We expect a report today,” Gama said.
The National Union of Mineworkers, which has fallen from being the largest employee representative at Amplats and now has about 35 percent of the workforce, said a committee of workers at the company asked it to support a wildcat strike. Such committees at Amplats and other mining companies consist of both union members and staff who aren’t affiliated to labor groups.
“They have asked us to join, but we can’t do something like that,” NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said by phone yesterday.
Workers in South Africa may strike legally, with their jobs protected, if an independent mediator agrees to a stoppage and after talks between unions and companies fail.
Union rivalry is the main source of instability at South African mines and labor groups should work with companies to resolve disputes, Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president of the ruling African National Congress, said on Johannesburg-based Talk Radio 702.
Ramaphosa, who founded the NUM in 1982 and went on to lead the biggest-ever strike in the gold industry five years later, is now the richest black South African after Patrice Motsepe, according to the Johannesburg-based Sunday Times.
Ramaphosa said he has “full confidence” in the departments of mineral resources and labor, which are acting “behind the scenes” to resolve the disputes. The “situation is quite volatile,” he said.
Amplats advanced for the first day in six in Johannesburg trading, climbing 2.9 percent to 294.31 rand by 9:41 a.m., after closing yesterday at the lowest since August 2005.
Amplats’ plan would reduce output by as many as 350,000 ounces annually, starting with 250,000 ounces this year. The producer had 56,379 employees by the end of December, according to its annual report.
At the company’s Tumela mine in the northernmost Limpopo province, workers who had refused to go above ground returned to the surface by last night and were checked by medical staff, Sithole said. Production was unaffected, she said.
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