Workers at South Africa's Amplats down tools: labor leader

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 16, 2013 12:46 AM
Workers at South Africa's Amplats down tools: labor leader

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Miners at the Rustenburg operations of South Africa's Anglo American Platinum refused to work overnight shifts in protest at company plans to close mines, a labor leader said on Wednesday.

"They didn't go underground," Evans Ramogka, an activist at an Amplats mine in Rustenburg, about 120km (70 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, told Reuters.

Local media reported that workers would be meeting later to plot wider strike action after Amplats, a unit of global mining group Anglo American, unveiled plans on Tuesday to mothball two South African mines, sell another and cut 14,000 jobs.

A company spokeswoman said she could not immediately comment on the claims that workers had downed tools because she was waiting for an operational update from managers at the mines.

Gideon du Plessis, deputy general secretary of the Solidarity trade union representing skilled workers, said that groups of Amplats Rustenburg workers from other unions had not gone underground but the full extent of the protests were unclear.

The planned mine closures, which the world's No. 1 platinum producer says are needed to restore profits, risk provoking a repeat of the violent wildcat strikes in the gold and platinum sectors that resulted in more than 50 deaths last year.

WEAK DEMAND

Amplats said on Monday that it is likely fall to a full-year loss because of those strikes.

South Africa sits on about 80 percent of the known reserves of platinum, used to build emissions-capping catalytic converters in automobiles, but weak demand has depressed the price.

The price of platinum rallied to three-month highs on Tuesday because of supply concerns triggered by the Amplats proposals.

Kumba Iron Ore, also part of the Anglo stable, said on Wednesday that its full-year profit is likely to have fallen by about a third, hit by lower export prices and an illegal strike at its main mine.

Fueled by glaring income disparities within the industry and the wider economy, the labor unrest is also rooted in a bloody turf war between the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

The latter is increasingly seen as out of touch with rank and file concerns and too close to management.

A fresh wave of strike action on South Africa's restive platinum belt and elsewhere could be crippling to an industry battling with soaring wage and power costs and aging mines that are the deepest in the world.

It would also further erode investor confidence in Africa's largest economy. The South African rand weakened against the dollar and investors pushed bonds lower on Wednesday because o the brewing labor unrest.

At 0825 GMT Amplats shares were down 4.5 percent at 464.87 rand ($52.77). ($1 = 8.8087 South African rand)

(Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Editing by David Goodman)