South African court deals blow to striking platinum union

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 02, 2014 9:52 AM

By Zandi Shabalala

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A South African labor court threw out an urgent application on Monday by the AMCU union to stop platinum firms communicating directly with miners, as both sides deliberated over government proposals to end a crippling five-month wage strike.

Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin took their wage offers directly to strikers after talks with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) to end the industrial action failed.

AMCU objected to the move and filed an urgent application to have it halted, but the union's lawyer, Jayson Kent, said the court had thrown it out, arguing it was not an urgent matter.

"We were concerned that urgency might be an issue and it's turned out that it was the issue that has ultimately resulted in our failure here today," he told reporters outside the court. "There are other avenues that we could consider."

The labor court is currently mediating the dispute and new mining minister Ngaoko Ramatlhodi has assembled a government team to negotiate a solution to what is already South Africa's longest and most costly labor dispute.

"The government gave proposals to all parties on Friday and we now have to consider them for approval," said Impala Platinum spokesman Johan Theron.

The proposals were made by the government team after the producers and union presented their positions, he said, adding that the employers had not revised their pay offer.

AMCU negotiator Brian Ashley told Reuters the union would meet on Monday to consider the proposals.

AMCU is demanding a basic monthly wage for its members of 12,500 rand ($1,200) within three to four years, while the companies have offered pay hikes of up to 10 percent that reach that figure by 2017 if ancillary benefits are also included.

The strike is having a major impact on the wider economy, pushing into contraction in the first quarter.

It has spilled over into the second quarter, raising fears that Africa's most advanced economy could head into recession this year. However, new Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene said this would not happen.

(Writing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Editing by Ed Cropley)