South African miners end strike as Amplats concedes on job cuts

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 10, 2013 2:48 PM
South African miners end strike as Amplats concedes on job cuts

By David Dolan and Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Anglo American Platinum said on Thursday it had clinched a deal with a South African union to end a nearly two-week strike over job cuts that hit production at the world's top platinum producer.

Amplats, as the unit of global miner Anglo American is known, said in a statement it would grant "voluntary separation" packages to 3,300 employees it had previously sought to lay off.

The news lifted Amplats' share price by 4 percent, but in the longer run investors may take a dim view of the situation as the company had already rowed back from an initial target of 14,000 job cuts under intense government and union pressure and still has to complete a tough round of wage talks.

The company said the strike had cost it 44,000 ounces in lost output.

Members of the hardline Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) are expected to return to their posts from the morning shift on Friday, union president Joseph Mathunjwa told Reuters.

He declined to give further details but the union will take the agreement as a victory because it means the workers who are losing their jobs will get more compensation, though the details remain unspecified.

More broadly, AMCU will claim its pressure helped to reduce the initial job cuts target - it orchestrated brief strikes earlier this year against the lay-offs - but this will not calm nerves in boardrooms after a crippling strike in the auto sector cost manufacturers $2 billion in lost production.

Prolonged labour turmoil has left some firms questioning how much to invest in South Africa, and BMW has said it is no longer considering expanding production there because of the unrest.

Car making accounts for 6 percent of South Africa's gross domestic product, equivalent to mining which has grabbed most of the negative headlines.

TURF WAR VICTOR

AMCU emerged as the dominant union in South Africa's platinum belt last year after poaching tens of thousands of workers from the once unrivalled National Union of Mineworkers in a bloody turf war that killed dozens of people and sparked a wave of wildcat strikes.

But AMCU's strike that just ended was legal, with only one reported incident of violence when police fired rubber bullets at some of its members for marching in a public space without permission from authorities.

This is in line with a change of tactics the union has followed this year as it matures and plays by the rules.

Last year's wildcat strikes helped push Amplats into its first-ever annual loss and its return to profitability hinges on an overhaul of its Rustenburg mines, northwest of Johannesburg.

It may incur some additional once-off costs to finally push through its restructuring but the closure of three shafts should help margins in the longer run.

"Anglo American Platinum's restructuring will address the objective of aligning the business with its expectation of long-term demand and is an extension of the steps taken to reposition the business in recent years," the company said.

Amplats said it was still aiming for reduced production of 2.2 to 2.4 million ounces per year "in the short term", down from 2.5 million ounces previously, which should help the price of platinum, used for emissions-capping catalytic converters in automobiles.

Despite the labour stoppages in South Africa, which accounts for 75 percent of global production of the precious metal, the spot price has been depressed by weak demand in key markets, notably Europe, where diesel engines are popular.

Its price is down almost 10 percent in 2013 to date.

(Writing by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Pravin Char)