Johannesburg - World No.2 platinum producer Impala Platinum
Holdings [JSE:IMP] has warned that industrial action at South Africa's platinum
mines, resulting in the death of workers at Implats and its rival Lonmin
[JSE:LON], could become more widespread.
A violent six-week strike at Implats' Rustenburg operations
early this year sliced 21% off its full-year production and, combined with
declining metals prices, led to a drastic cut in its dividend, to 60 cents a
share from 570 cents last year.
“The platinum industry is experiencing increased levels of
industrial action, as witnessed at both Impala Rustenburg at the beginning of
this year and more recently at Lonmin, with the associated tragic loss of life.
These developments pose a significant risk to the industry,” said Implats’
newly installed chief executive Terence Goodlace.
Describing the labour relations at Implats’ operations as
“relatively stable”, Goodlace said the trade union rivalry that sparked the
strike at both its operations and Lonmin’s was still “fairly volatile”.
A bitter turf war between the entrenched majority National
Union of Mineworkers (Num) and rival Association of Mineworkers and
Construction Union (Amcu) has already spilled over to surrounding mines in the
Rustenburg area and analysts are worried about a contagion hitting gold
The platinum price has also jumped to a three-month high on
the threat that South Africa, as supplier of 80% of the world’s platinum, could
be disrupted indefinitely.
Three lives were claimed during the strike at Implats in
January and February. This cost the company, which produces 30% of the world’s
platinum, 120,000 ounces in lost production and translated into R2.8bn in lost
“We are trying to restore production levels. We were hurt by
the strike, and the build-up thus far to pre-strike levels has been a lot
slower than anticipated,” Goodlace said.
Production for the 2012 financial year came in at 1.45
million ounces and Implats is now unlikely to hit its 2014 target of 2 million
South Africa’s platinum industry is struggling to survive as
input costs, such as electricity and labour, climb and the platinum price
The flaring labour unrest and concerns over South Africa's
declining supply has provided some respite for the metal’s price, which has
climbed by about $150 in the past week.
Implats still has a way to go to reassure investors. Apart
from labour concerns, it must still finalise the sale of a 31% stake in its
Zimplats operations to the Zimbabwean government.
Chief financial officer Brenda Berlin told a media
conference call that discussions were centred on the value and funding of the
stake. She said that other buyers would be engaged only if the funding was not
secured by the Zimbabwean government.
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