Pravin Gordhan urges platinum industry to avoid strikes

2014-01-20 15:18

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South Africa’s ailing economy cannot afford more mine labour unrest, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has warned.

This comes after the platinum industry’s main trade union, Amcu, said it would launch a strike at the world’s top three producers this week.

A wave of sometimes violent strikes in the factory and mining sectors constrained growth to a sluggish 2% in 2013, hampering efforts by the government to create badly needed jobs as it braces for elections this year.

The rand turned weaker after Gordhan’s comments today, a day after members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) voted to strike at the world’s biggest platinum producer, Anglo American Platinum.

Unionists have also elected to walk off the job at Impala Platinum and Lonmin. A simultaneous stoppage at the three would hit exports as the rand wallows near five-year lows versus the dollar.

Renewed labour strife will raise a red flag for ratings agencies after more than 50 people died in the Marikana massacre during violent mine protests in 2012 that triggered downgrades from Moody’s, Fitch and Standard and Poor’s.

TThe platinum industry needs to seriously get around the table,” Gordhan told the SABC in an interview today.

“We can least afford another round of strikes that will act as a destabilisation to the platinum sector which has had increasing difficulties over the past 18 months.”

Earlier this month, Moody’s cited weakening productivity and strike-related business losses, exacerbated by declining terms of trade, as a major credit challenge for South Africa.

It said: “The economy has never fully recovered its momentum following the global recession in 2009, partly due to domestic political and economic turbulence ignited by violent labour unrest and the associated uncertainty that it has created.”

Demands for wage increases well above inflation of 5.3% will also worry the Reserve Bank, which has been blocked from loosening policy further to help the economy by price pressures stemming from rand weakness.

The central bank will likely keep interest rates at a four-decade low of 5% at its first policy meeting of the year next week.

At Anglo American Platinum and Lonmin, union Amcu is seeking a minimum monthly wage of R12 500 for entry-level workers – more than double current levels, under the populist banner of a “living wage”.

At Impala, the union scaled back its demand late last year to just over R8 500 a month.

Rival union National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said on Friday it had accepted overall wage increase offers of between 9.8 and 11.8% from mid-tier platinum producer Northam Platinum in a bid to end a 75-day strike by more than 7 000 miners.

Companies have said they can ill afford steep increases as power and other costs soar while prices for platinum, used in pollution-reducing automobile catalytic converters, remain depressed.

Today, Amcu confirmed it would also strike at gold mines where it has majority membership after rejecting the 8% pay hike that NUM, which still represents most gold miners, agreed with bullion producers last year.

Amcu has majority representation at AngloGold Ashanti’s Mponeng operation, the world’s deepest mine, Harmony Gold’s Kusasalethu and Sibanye Gold’s Driefontein mine.

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