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Study claims S.Africa platinum firms can afford strike demands

Top platinum producers could afford wage hikes demanded by striking miners in South Africa if their shareholders took a cut in dividends, a study said Friday, as the country’s longest-ever strike rumbled on.

Thousands of miners have been on strike for five months in a bid to get their employers to double their pay to $1,180.

Manchester University and Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand said the demand could be met if shareholders simply pocketed less dividends.

The study claimed that if Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum were to slash their dividends by about 20 percent, salaries could be increased by $170 a year for four years — reaching AMCU’s demands.

Lonmin, however, would need to slash its dividends by over 50 percent.

“If the past is a guide to the future, then, for Implats and Amplats in particular, if shareholders took home less, the wages could be increased easily,” researcher Gilad Isaacs said.

Top producers say the wages demanded by radical union AMCU would inflate their wage bill and make it unaffordable, since the industry took a beating during the global economic crisis.

The union said it is simply demanding a decent “living wage”.

The researchers had based their findings on profit margins which reached between 37 and 44 percent from 2000 to 2008 at Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin.

That is more than double the average of the top 40 firms on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, but workers took home little of the profits.

In their calculations, however, the researchers presume that commodity markets can return to the boom years of 2008, before the financial crisis, which is far from certain.

And without platinum firms fully opening their books, the claim of affordability may be difficult to prove.

What is clear is that the strike is now in its fifth month and miners have missed out on lost wages, while firms have seen production clobbered.

After months of the government standing on the sidelines, the mining ministry last week stepped in to try to break the deadlock.

Talks are ongoing.