23 January 2014

South Africa: Mass Platinum Strike Under Way in South Africa

Photo: Werner Beukes/SAPA
Striking mineworkers (file photo).

A strike affecting half of the world's platinum production is under way at mines in South Africa. The main union is looking to double miners' pay - but not all its members agree with the protest.

Tens of thousands of workers at the world's top three platinum producers in South Africa downed tools in a strike on Thursday, demanding a doubling of their pay.

Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin have all been shut down by the strike, called by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), the platinum sector's main union.

The stoppage could have a catastrophic effect on South Africa's stressed economy, with the three companies producing half of the world's platinum, a metal used among other things in catalytic converters in cars.

Mine owners fear that the strike could trigger a repeat of the same kind of violence that saw more than 40 people killed in wildcat strikes in 2012. Police say they have stepped up security to prevent such incidents reoccurring.

Dissidence in the ranks

Not all AMCU members are in favor of the strike, with some accusing its leaders of recklessness in carrying out industrial protest action they say many miners neither want nor can afford. The dissidents say they plan to form a rival union.

AMCU wants the basic entry-level wage at Amplats and Lonmin more than doubled, and a smaller but still major pay rise at Implats. The companies are offering increases of 7.5-8.5 percent, which is well above the 5.4 inflation rate.

The three companies have issued a joint statement describing the wage demands as "unaffordable and unrealistic" and warning that previous industrial action along with economic factors had already cost some 11,000 jobs since December 2011.

The hardline AMCU, which emerged on the scene just two years ago, has up to 100,000 members on the platinum belt, 120 km (70 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.

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