Wave of wildcat strikes whips SA

2012-09-26 19:48

Johannesburg - An illegal strike spread through the local operations of AngloGold Ashanti [JSE:ANG] on Wednesday, while Anglo Platinum [JSE:AMS] (Amplats) said it could start firing unlawful strikers on Thursday, as the country’s miners grapple to rein in weeks of labour unrest.

A wave of wildcat action is roiling South Africa’s mines despite the end of an illegal six-week stoppage at platinum producer Lonmin [JSE:LON] in which 46 people were killed and the price of the white metal was pushed higher.

Mining shares tanked in Johannesburg on Wednesday, with Amplats extending steep losses to over 6% after its chief executive Chris Griffith described the country’s platinum sector as “in crisis”.

Most of AngloGold’s 35 000 workers have joined the wildcat action that began last week at its Kopanang mine. The company is the world’s No.3 bullion producer and South Africa accounted for about 32% of its global output of close to 2 million ounces of gold in the first half of 2012.

Illegal strike action has also gripped Gold Fields [JSE:GFI] and the world’s top platinum producer Amplats, a unit of global mining group Anglo American [JSE:AGL].

Amplats said attendance at its four Rustenburg mines remained below 20% and it would take action against strikers from Thursday, including the prospect of dismissals.

Platinum sector 'in crisis'

It has made such threats before but then extended the deadlines, perhaps mindful of the violence unleashed when rival Impala Platinum [JSE:IMP] fired strikers in January.  

But CEO Griffith struck a tough tone in a conference call with journalists, saying: “At some point in time, we have got to put our foot down and we have now reached that position.”

“We are not going to entertain wage negotiations at this point in time,” he said.

Much of the platinum sector in South Africa has been battling with soaring costs and weak demand and Anglo American launched a review of its Amplats’ operations months ago.

“Our Rustenburg mining operations are under considerable economic pressure and their future is already under review,” Griffith said.

“The platinum industry is in dire straits at the moment. This is an industry that is in crisis,” he said.

In total there are close to 75 000 workers on strike or prevented from going to work because of intimidation across South Africa’s mining sector, about 15% of the workforce.

Malema to address Implats workers

The steep 11% to 22% pay hikes extracted in the bloody standoff at Lonmin have been a red rag for others in an industry marked by glaring income and wage disparities.

ANC renegade Julius Malema, a populist who has backed the wildcat strikes and called for the nationalisation of the country’s mines, said he planned to address Implats’ workers on Thursday to encourage them to press for higher wages.

“Tomorrow I’m going to a mine, Impala mine in Rustenburg. I’m going to encourage the workers to demand 12 500 (rand a month),” Malema said outside a court in the northern city of Polokwane where he was charged with money laundering.

Malema, the former head of the ruling ANC’s Youth League who was ousted from the party for ill-discipline in April, is tapping into a swelling vein of anger among miners to revive his political career and campaign to unseat President Jacob Zuma.

Lesiba Seshoka, spokesperson for the National Union of Mineworkers (Num), said the AngloGold strikers wanted a minimum of R16 000 ($2 000) a month but the company said it had not received a formal wage demand yet.

If the demand is R16 000 it would represent a rise of as much as 400% on the basic wages of the lowest-paid workers in the sector. AngloGold and some of its rivals have two-year wage deals that are in place until the middle of 2013.

The Num does not support the strikes but elsewhere demands have included the resignation of its leaders, a reflection of discontent among miners who regard the union as out of touch and too close to mine managers and the ANC government.

Reneged on a deal

Gold Fields, the world’s fourth largest producer, said on Tuesday workers had reneged on a deal Num claimed to have sealed to end a two-week strike at its KDC West operation and miners at its Beatrix mine had also downed tools.

Illegal strikes erupted in the platinum sector in the form of a bloody turf war between the Num and the more militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

The strikes have now spread elsewhere but there is no evidence yet of Amcu involvement in the unrest.

Meanwhile, the country’s truck drivers are also on a legal strike over wages.

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  • - 2012-09-26 20:08

    A lesson from my first boss: 'If you want to steal money without committing a crime, steal someones labour. Pay them less than you are supposed to pay. That way you get money that is not yours; and you will never go to prison'. I quit the next week.

      crracker.crackerr - 2012-09-26 20:28

      Or steal from your emploYER! Same application.

      godfrey.welman - 2012-09-26 20:58

      The best thing to do is, fire the illegal strikers and ignore NUM when they plea for their jobs. SA must be seen as a country where the rule of law is maintained.

  • charl.reaper - 2012-09-26 20:13

    Such a catch 22 situation, I would love it to end but I'm enjoying shorting the stocks :p

  • mark.haupt.31 - 2012-09-26 20:19

    The times, they are a-changing and I doubt the ANC fully comprehend where it's all going. Shouldn't someone tell them?

      atholl.canterbury - 2012-09-26 21:46

      Politicians don't know... they think they do. The masterplan revolves around only three components: {problem} - {reaction} - {solution} ... or ... {power} - {control - {money} ... or ... {chaos} - {order} - {conquer} many of these plans were drawn up 10 / 20 / 30 years ago. some 100 years ago.

  • charl.reaper - 2012-09-26 20:25

    Seriously this is terrible

  • Tim Elliott - 2012-09-26 21:02

    The deafening silence from the brilliant Tri-Partite alliance says it all!SA is now on the edge of a rush to the bottom and just when we need LEADERSHIP it is non existent or at the UN spewing forth utter crap about 'delivery'.We need to be worried!

  • sean.bagley.50 - 2012-09-26 21:25

    Perhaps South African unions should find themselves advisors from the outside world.If you treat workers with a cavalier style attitude then perhaps they will not take umbrage. Having said that,Impala Platinum fired 17,000 workers and then told them to re-apply for their jobs. Lonmin mine bosses,gave shocked workers the ultimatum that they should either return to work or face being fired aswell. If only these miners will become more realistic about what state of development of the South African economy is at then they'll start making some sense.South Africa has some of the most restrictive worker rights and labour laws anywhere in the world. No overseas companies would want to invest in South Africa when they have to deal with such problems.The corrupt ANC elite needs to stop lining their own pockets. If the Lonmin deal is the best sort of deal that can be achieved then where products such as platinum,gold,diamonds,are being produced in a country like ours,then the best way to compensate workers is to SHARE profits. Yes keep the basic salaries,which we all agree on is a pittance wage anyway,but add the SHARE BONUS to boost production.Nobody will not work harder than when he or she that don't see the direct benefit coming his or her way.

      sean.bagley.50 - 2012-09-26 21:40

      Mining strikes stems from more basic problems in South Africa.Millions of poor South Africans still live without basic services such as water and electricity.The education system in the country for most of the population is disfunctional currently.Until this structural problems like education are resolved there will be similar incidents as frustrated workers want their expectations met. Unions seem confused on how to represent the best interests of its membership.With the wealth associated with some of this union work, like NUM on mines,the entire strategy appears to need of an overhaul - such as workers getting a share of what is produced hence a workers' union. However the shooting at Marikana shows the greater financial crisis of SA's natural resources. Upstarts will compete with COSATU for the support of the marginalized. But more unions will divide the working class and this will eventually lead to their demise. The truth is that a small black elite have become very rich while the rest struggle to survive in South Africa.The ANC have betrayed their own people.

  • grant.montgomery.5074 - 2012-09-27 00:38

    The future for SA doesn't look good. If the miners/truck drivers get what they are demanding it will just lead to further inflation. All workers in SA will be demanding huge pay increases. The price of everthing will go up and next year they will all be striking again. I've posted before that when I arrived in SA in 1982 my gross salary was R1200 a month. Now miners are demanding more than ten times as much. Bottom line : The ANC could have and should have done a much better job.

  • Zahir - 2012-09-27 07:38

    Workers are going to lose close the mines there other countries that can produce gold

  • toni.falletisch - 2012-09-27 09:03

    Lets work on the basis we have no South African labour that wants to work and begin importing the labour we need. Amen to your strikes!

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