South African Platinum Strike ‘Necessary,’ Union Says

The 12-week strike that’s halted most South African mines of the three biggest platinum producers will continue as long as the companies refuse to improve offers, the leader of the union calling the stoppage said.

“This protracted strike has been a long but necessary journey for AMCU members, who have made sacrifices to transform the current slave-wage system in the mining sector,” Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union President Joseph Mathunjwa told reporters today in Pretoria, the capital. There’s been “no traction from employers, who are stuck on their 9 percent offer. Our members remain resolute in their demands.”

The union, which is the biggest at Anglo American Platinum Ltd., Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. and Lonmin Plc, wants the companies to raise basic monthly pay to 12,500 rand ($1,188) over four years from as little as 5,000 rand now, which the producers say they can’t afford. Inflation was 5.9 percent in February.

More than 70,000 members of the union have been on strike since Jan. 23 in support of higher wages in South Africa, which accounts for more than two-thirds of global platinum supply. The companies have lost 13.1 billion rand in revenue while workers have forfeited 5.8 billion rand in pay, according to a website set up by the producers.

The AMCU has started a fund to support families of striking members, with the organization making 1 million rand available and office bearers contributing 50,000 rand, Mathunjwa said.

Company Marches

Over the past two months, the union’s leaders and members have marched to the head offices of each of the producers to hand over a list of demands.

“We will continue to engage with the employers in finding a settlement as soon as possible,” Mathunjwa said.

The AMCU last year displaced the National Union of Mineworkers as the biggest representative of employees on South Africa’s platinum belt. The NUM is part of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, an ally of the ruling African National Congress, while the AMCU says it’s apolitical.

Attempts have been made “to put pressure on our members to denounce AMCU and join employers’ sweetheart unions,” Mathunjwa said.

NUM Revival

The NUM has been accepting AMCU members and has regained recognition at Anglo American Platinum, General Secretary Frans Baleni told state-owned Lesedi FM yesterday.

While the company notes reports by the NUM on an increase in the number of employees joining the union, the producer will have to undertake a verification process before it can comment, Mpumi Sithole, a spokeswoman for Anglo American Platinum, said in an e-mailed response to questions today.

No meetings on the strike are expected until after the Easter holidays that end on April 22, AMCU Treasurer Jimmy Gama said in Pretoria.

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