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S.African union denies platinum wage talks breakdown

Published on 06/02/2014

South Africa's radical worker group AMCU said Thursday that salary negotiations were still on track two weeks into a massive strike at the country's platinum mines, contradicting an announcement by producers that the talks were deadlocked.

Around 80,000 mineworkers and their employers have been at loggerheads over massive wage hike demands despite attempts by independent mediators to broker a deal.

But the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) said negotiations had merely adjourned for a discussion period.

“The talks have not broken down,” AMCU treasurer Jimmy Gama told AFP.

“The CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration) requested that we give them some time to reflect on our presentations. So they will be calling the parties in due course to reconvene the meetings.”

AMCU members downed tools on January 23 demanding a basic wage of 12,500 rand ($1,125) — more than double the current entry-level salary.

The mine companies have offered a seven percent raise, saying they could not afford more and accusing the union of failing to compromise.

Three top producers — Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin — said Wednesday the talks had ended “as the parties have been unable to reach a settlement”.

But Gama said the union had scaled down its demands, notably dropping calls for increases in various allowances such as housing. Members had also suggested the pay increase could be gradually implemented over two years, he added.

Gama questioned the mine companies’ claims they could not afford the increases.

“That is their defence every year, so when are they going to have money?” he said.

The union would meet with members on Thursday and Friday to reconfirm its mandate to negotiate, he added.

AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa hinted Wednesday that the CCMA proposal — so far kept a close secret — could pave the way for an eventual agreement.

South Africa’s northern platinum belt has been the scene of work-related bloodshed since 34 platinum miners were shot dead by police during a strike at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in August 2012.

Producers say the current stoppages have cost the South African economy $360 million.

The country accounts for 80 percent of global platinum production.