Northam Platinum Tells Workers Strike May Cause Job Cuts

Northam Platinum Ltd., owner of the world’s deepest mine for the metal, may be forced to cut jobs after losing more than 200 million rand ($20 million) during a three-week strike over pay, it said in a letter to workers.

Northam is losing 14 million rand a day in revenue, excluding costs, as a result of the strike at its Zondereinde division that began Nov. 3, it said in an open letter to the National Union of Mineworkers, published today in Business Day. The company has offered workers pay increases of 8 percent to 9 percent, it said.

“Northam itself is in a tenuous position,” Chief Executive Officer Glyn Lewis and General Manager Danny Gonsalves said in the letter. “A higher cost base would reduce the company’s profitability, which is already strained by weak economic fundamentals, and will -- ultimately -- affect jobs.”

The NUM, which represents about 80 percent of employees in two bargaining unit categories, has demanded an average pay increase of 61 percent. The outcome of the Northam strike will set a precedent for wage negotiations at larger producers Anglo American Platinum Ltd., Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. and Lonmin Plc, according to Investec Plc and Stanlib Asset Management.

Northam is aiming not to cut jobs as part of a settlement, it said. “Unlike other miners, Northam has not yet retrenched employees as a means of containing costs and we would hope to continue on that track,” it said in the letter, addressed to NUM General Secretary Frans Baleni.

‘Insincere Gesture’

The letter is an insincere gesture because the first time he read it was in the newspaper, Baleni said in an interview. “They plead poverty, but executives continue to earn huge salaries,” he said. “Only one side must tighten their belts and that’s the workers.”

Lewis’s basic pay climbed 89 percent to 5.8 million rand for the year ended June 30, according to Northam’s annual report on its website. His total wages, including bonuses and benefits, dropped 19 percent to 8.9 million rand as a performance incentive payout fell 70 percent to 2.3 million rand.

Terence Goodlace, CEO of Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd., the second-largest producer, was paid 7.5 million rand for the same period and has chosen not to receive an increase in 2014, according to the company’s latest annual report.

Worker March

The strike will continue and about 5,000 miners will march to Northam’s offices in Johannesburg tomorrow, Baleni said.

The impact of the stoppage on the workforce and communities “is likely to be significant,” Northam said, as striking workers have so far lost 30 million rand in wages. Employees who strike don’t get paid in South Africa. With each miner supporting five to 10 people, about 70,000 are potentially without income, Northam said.

The company has revised its wage proposal three times and is offering to pay entry-level employees 10,200 rand to 10,600 rand a month, excluding bonuses and allowances.

Coronation Fund Managers Ltd. in September underwrote a 600 million-rand offer of stock to existing shareholders. The company reported cash holdings of 299 million rand at June 30.

Northam “probably has more firepower than the union,” Justin Froneman, an analyst at SBG Securities Ltd. in Johannesburg, said today by phone. “This is going to end in a pretty ugly stalemate for the National Union of Mineworkers”.

The spot price of platinum added 0.1 percent to $1,386.25 an ounce at 12:23 p.m. in London. Increased output from lower-cost nations such as Zimbabwe and higher recycling rates mean South African producers have a “dwindling influence” on the metal’s price, Northam said.

The company’s shares climbed 0.5 percent to 40.85 rand in Johannesburg, extending the increase this year to 7.7 percent.

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