Amplats Mine Clash Cause 1 Serious Injury, DisruptionsFranz Wild
Anglo American Platinum Ltd. workers plan to return to operations owned by the world’s biggest producer of the metal after failing to report for duty today following clashes between labor groups at the Siphumelele mine.
The company, known as Amplats, “has received confirmation that its employees will be returning back to work tomorrow,” spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole said in an e-mail.
Nine workers were shot with rubber bullets and three security guards were hurt in the fighting yesterday at the mine in Rustenburg, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) northwest of Johannesburg. Machetes and other sharp objects were used in the attacks, according to police. Operations were halted and employees gathered at a stadium in the area in sympathy with those who were involved in yesterday’s incident, Sithole said earlier.
The National Union of Mineworkers, South Africa’s biggest labor group and an ally of the ruling African National Congress, is losing support to rivals, including the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. Tensions between the two organizations contributed to 10 days of violence at Lonmin Plc’s Marikana mine in August in which 10 people died. Police opened fire on striking workers at the mine near Rustenburg on Aug. 16, killing 34 protesters.
While there were no fatalities at the Amplats mine yesterday, one person was taken to a Johannesburg hospital with an injury to the head after being hit with a blunt object, police spokesman Thulani Ngubane said in an interview on SAfm radio today. The situation at the mine and the stadium where workers have gathered is calm, he said separately by phone.
Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu today met with the Chamber of Mines, unions and Amplats management to “canvas immediate action to be taken by organized labor, business and the government in dealing with the recurrent violence” in the platinum industry, the ministry said in an e-mailed statement.
Officials will meet tomorrow to further discuss areas of cooperation for a “long-term industry solution,” it said.
NUM members didn’t report for work because they are being intimidated, Mxhasi Sithethi, a regional co-ordinator for the union in Rustenburg, said by phone today.
“We are contesting that AMCU is the majority union” at Amplats, he said. “In an environment where there is no voice for people or rights of association, people are just coerced and intimidated.”
Yesterday’s clashes occurred when members of a workers’ committee, a non-unionized group, demanded NUM officials vacate their offices, questioning their legitimacy to represent employees, Amplats said. The company said it’s in the process of validating union membership at the mine.
With industrywide wage talks looming, tensions between labor groups are intensifying. Lonmin ended a six-week strike at Marikana last year by agreeing to pay increases for workers of 11 percent to 22 percent.
“It’s not going to be an easy wage negotiation process,” Ben Davis, a platinum analyst at Liberum Capital Ltd. in London, said in a phone interview. “The politics and precedents set from last year are dangerous, where intimidation and violence proved to be a useful tool for the unions.”
Wage negotiations usually start in April or May and changes to pay are made in July, Sithethi said.
Strikes in the mining industry last year shut gold and platinum mines, reducing South Africa’s gross domestic product by 0.5 percentage point, according to the National Treasury, and contributed to a drop in the nation’s credit rating.
Police are investigating cases including public violence, attempted murder and assault at the Amplats mine.
Amplats rose for the first time in four days, adding 0.9 percent to 447 rand by the close in Johannesburg. Anglo American Plc, which controls Amplats, climbed 0.7 percent to 1,996 pence at 3:41 p.m. in London. The rand gained 0.1 percent to 8.8826 per dollar after sliding 0.4 percent yesterday.
Amplats said last month it may shut four mine shafts to curb costs and stem losses spurred by a two-month strike last year. The plan, which would cut about 7 percent of global output, was put on hold pending further talks with the government and unions.
“The talks are going very well,” the NUM’s Sithethi said. “Amplats has changed their tune. They are open for any possible solutions.”