S.Africa platinum producers try to woo strikers in home villages

by Reuters
Wednesday, 30 April 2014 11:09 GMT

* Many strikers have gone home

* Strike has been on for 14 weeks

* Companies betting workers want to return

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG, April 30 (Reuters) - Platinum producers are trying to woo striking miners back to work by reaching out to them in their home villages where many have returned to sit out a 14-week stoppage over wages.

The standoff has come down to a struggle for the workers' hearts and minds after talks between the companies and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) collapsed last week.

Strike-hit Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin are bypassing the AMCU and taking their latest offer, which includes pay hikes of up to 10 percent, directly to the workers.

This includes a campaign in the so-called "labour-sending" areas - mostly rural locations in the Eastern Cape province far from the shafts northwest of Johannesburg, as well as in neighbouring countries Lesotho and Mozambique.

Amplats' spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole said on Wednesday that the Anglo American unit had started an outreach in those areas last weekend.

This includes door-to-door visits by HR representatives as well as requests that people gather at central points for public meetings where the offer will be explained.

"For safety reasons we will not be releasing any detailed information on the progress that we are making and we are doing this to reduce the risk of intimidation and violence," she said.

Industry sources maintain AMCU's militant core is using intimidation to keep members in line and say most of its workers have returned to their home villages, so its mass rallies on the platinum belt are not a real indication of its support.

AMCU has long denied allegations of using intimidation and says most of its workers have come back, but the towns around the platinum belt visited in recent days by Reuters journalists have looked all but deserted.

The companies have also been sending out cell phone text messages and Lonmin has said workers could sign an "intention form" at company premises or the offices of TEBA, a mine recruitment agency with offices in the labour-sending areas.

This strategy is predicated on two premises: that AMCU's "enforcers" are not present in such areas and that after three months without pay, the rank and file may be ready to fold and go back underground to extract platinum.


AMCU is not happy with the companies' moves to bypass it.

Speaking on public broadcaster SAFM on Wednesday, Mathunjwa said it was "tantamount to union bashing and dividing workers". Mathunjwa said on Tuesday that AMCU's members had rebuffed the offer from the trio, which he has dubbed a "platinum cartel".

Initially AMCU demanded an immediate increase of the basic wage - net salary before allowances such as housing - for entry-level workers to 12,500 rand ($1,200) a month, well over double current levels.

The union has since said it would accept annual increases that would reach this goal in three or four years' time.

The producers' latest offer is for wage rises of up to 10 percent and other increases that would take the minimum pay package - the basic wage including the allowances - to 12,500 rand a month by July 2017.

They say they cannot afford any more given rising costs and depressed prices for the precious metal used for emissions-capping catalytic converters in vehicle engines.

Underlining this point is the muted price reaction to the stoppage despite the over 700,000 ounces of production lost to it so far - around 12 percent of global annual output.

Spot platinum is fetching around $1,420 an ounce, a but lower than it was on the eve of the strike's start.

Restructuring is considered likely after the dust clears from the strike, with job losses expected, especially around Amplats' struggling Rustenburg operations, which it has signaled it could sell or mothball. [D:nL6N0MZ3YA] (Editing by Jason Neely)

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