Thu, Sep 20, 2012 - Page 15 News List

Lonmin deal pressures other S Africa mining firms

Reuters, JOHANNESBURG

A striking miner listens to a speaker after workers secured a pay hike from London-listed Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, South Africa, on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

A violent six-week strike at world No. 3 platinum producer Lonmin has come to an end with a hefty wage settlement that could stir more strife in South Africa’s restive mining sector.

Lonmin’s 11-to-22 percent pay hike deal with striking workers may be a red rag for others in an industry riven by income disparities laid bare by a wave of violent industrial action in which 45 people died last month.

As Lonmin’s miners prepare to don their helmets and head back down the shafts, others are eyeing their gains greedily.

“We want management to meet us as well now. We want 9,000 rand [US$1,100] a month as a basic wage instead of the roughly 5,000 rand we are getting,” an organizer with the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) at Lonmin rival Impala Platinum told reporters.

He declined to be named for fear company recriminations.

AMCU exploded onto the South African labor scene in January when its turf war for members with the dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) led to the closure of the world’s largest platinum mine, run by Implats, for six weeks.

The discontent rolling through the platinum belt has found fertile ground in the shanty-towns that ring the mines.

The communities that serve the platinum companies sit side-by-side in the dusty “platinum belt” — proximity that will make the Lonmin deal a source of jealousy for workers from other mines.

Anglo American Platinum, the world’s top producer of the metal used for catalytic converters in cars, was last week forced to suspend its Rustenburg operations, 120km northwest of Johannesburg, because of the unrest.

Those mines rebooted on Tuesday, but its workers will be tempted by the pay hikes achieved just down the road in Marikana, where 34 striking Lonmin workers were shot dead by police last month in the worst such incident since the end of white rule in 1994.

“The ripple effects will continue to be felt. The outcome of the negotiation at Marikana will likely set a new benchmark for mining more generally and wage costs are set to rise substantially,” JPMorgan said in a research note.

The gold sector has also not been spared, with 15,000 miners at the KDC West operation of Gold Fields, the world’s fourth-largest bullion producer, on an illegal strike.

However, unlike the platinum miners, Gold Fields and its bigger rival, Anglo Gold Ashanti, have both diversified away from their home base and now get half or more of their output from outside South Africa.

Gold Fields’ chief executive Nick Holland told reporters on Monday his company could “go on for quite some time” despite the KDC West disruption.

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