Militant S.Africa union vows fight as Amplats job plan looms

Fri May 10, 2013 4:26am EDT

* Tensions high in platinum belt after violence last year

* Amplats needs cuts to restore profits

By Helen Nyambura-Mwaura and Tiisetso Motsoeneng

RUSTENBURG, South Africa, May 10 (Reuters) - South African labour activists promised on Friday to fight any job cuts by Anglo American Platinum, which is expected to unveil a new plan on restoring profits later in the day after the original provoked a backlash from the government and unions.

Amplats, a unit of London-based Anglo American and the world's top platinum producer, had initially envisaged slashing 14,000 jobs and mothballing two mines. Industry sources have told Reuters the final plan, produced after months of tough talks with the government, would demand as few as 5,000 redundancies.

In the restive platinum belt city of Rustenburg which will bear the brunt of the lay-offs, activists with the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) said they would not tolerate any job losses.

"Even if it's 5,000 or 6,000 jobs, they must not be lost. Where will 6,000 people in this economy go? They will engage in criminality," Simon Hlongwane, a winch operator and AMCU branch secretary at Amplats Thembelani mine, told Reuters. "We as AMCU stand ready to fight," the 42-year-old said.

Social tensions are running high after violence rooted in a labour turf war between AMCU and the dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) killed more than 50 people last year and provoked illegal strikes that hit production. This was a major reason why Amplats suffered its first loss last year.

With unemployment over 25 percent and elections due next year, the government has taken a strong line in the negotiations with Amplats, which has promised an announcement this week.

The average South African mineworker has eight dependants, so the social and political consequences even of reduced lay-offs will be far reaching.

AMCU has made good on strike promises in the past, including in January when it briefly closed several mines in protest when the initial Amplats plan was unveiled, though is leaders said in Johannesburg on Thursday they would not back such action.

For Amplats, reining in costs and cutting production to such an extent that it lifts the price of platinum - used for emissions-capping catalytic converters in motor vehicles - is crucial to getting back to profit.

AMCU emerged as the dominant union in the platinum shafts last year after it poached tens of thousands of disgruntled members from the NUM, a political ally of the ruling African National Congress.

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