S.Africa miners agree terms to end strike with unions

12th June 2014, Comments 0 comments

The world's biggest platinum producers said on Thursday they had reached "in principle undertakings" with South African union leaders, which could end the longest strike in the country's mining history.

Union leaders would now seek a mandate from their members to accept offers on pay and conditions. If successful "it will bring to an end the 21-week long strike," Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin said in a statement.

A mining source told AFP the deal included a 1,000 rand ($94, 70 euro) raise in monthly salary for the lowest-paid worker each year over "anything from three to five years".

Leaders of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) were meeting with union members Thursday, and the companies said they expected a response on Friday.

Local media reported around 17,000 workers had gathered at Impala Platinum near Rustenburg, northwest of Johannesburg, while others were meeting at Lonmin and Anglo American (Amplats).

The strike began when more than 70,000 workers downed tools on January 23, demanding that their basic salary be more than doubled to 12,500 rand ($1,170, 860 euros) per month.

Employers called the demand unaffordable, and a series of negotiations, including recent government intervention, failed.

Mining Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi warned this week that the mines could close if the strike continued, throwing thousands of people out of work and cutting off a vital export.

South Africa holds around 80 percent of the world's known platinum reserves, and platinum group metals raked in 9.0 percent of export earnings last year.

The strike helped push the economy into its first contraction since the global economic crisis five years ago in the first quarter of this year, raising the spectre of recession.

- 'Breakthrough' -

The new deal sought "to afford employees the best possible increase under the current financial circumstances," the companies said.

"Thereafter, and should an agreement be reached, the companies will be assisting employees to ensure a safe return to a normal working environment," they said.

Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey told AFP the three firms' chief executives and AMCU leaders held "informal meetings" in the 48 hours leading up to the agreement, which was finalised on Wednesday.

Lonmin envisaged restarting mining operations by July, she said.

"We would obviously provide a period of time for people to return from where they have been.

"After that will be the medicals (checkups). Realistically it might be a first of July start," she said.

If agreed, the deal would be backdated from last October up to the start of the strikes in January. The funds would be paid within seven days, said Vey.

"It is important that people get money in the pocket," she said.

Implats spokesman Johan Theron told AFP earlier that full operations could take three months or even longer to get underway.

Analyst Peter Leon, head of African mining and energy at law firm Webber Wentzel, told AFP: "I think this is potentially very good news and exactly the sort of breakthrough we have all been waiting for.

"It obviously now depends on whether AMCU's membership agree with the 'in principle' agreement, as well as what is in the agreement; hopefully this is a 'win win' outcome for all concerned."

Signalling the government's impatience at the deadlock, ruling ANC party secretary-general Gwede Mantashe told a news conference in Cape Town on Thursday the strike was "beginning to impact on the performance of the economy in a big way," he said.

Mantashe again accused "foreign citizens" and "foreign organisations" of driving the strike -- a charge he first made at the weekend -- without naming them.

Local media reported that Mantashe has been pointing to Liv Shange, a Swedish national and deputy general secretary of the Workers and Socialist Party (Wasp).

She has termed his remarks xenophobic.

The strike had become "political", Mantashe said, accusing the radical Economic Freedom Fighters' party of also playing a direct role in the negotiations.

© 2014 AFP

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