UPDATE 1-Sparring South African mine unions talk, Amplats hit by strike

Fri Jun 14, 2013 11:49am EDT

By Ed Stoddard

PRETORIA, June 14 (Reuters) - Disgruntled workers at an Anglo American Platinum mine in South Africa prevented 2,400 miners from going above ground on Friday, the company said, dealing a blow to an attempt by the government to ease 18 months of unrest in the sector.

The world's largest platinum producer, commonly known as Amplats, said the industrial action at its Thembelani mine followed the dismissal of four union shop stewards for "inappropriate behaviour".

An activist from the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) said the workers had downed tools underground in anger at the dismissal of the union officials.

It was unclear exactly what happened next but it follows a pattern of intimidation in which groups of workers prevent others from doing their job.

The incident was the latest wildcat action to hit the platinum belt, which has hit growth in Africa's largest economy and brought ratings downgrades.

"There is zero tolerance to any illegal actions which include intimidation, threats of violence and assault," Amplats said in a statement.

Amplats is in talks to cut up to 6,000 jobs around the platinum belt city of Rustenburg, a move that induced a fierce reaction from the government before elections next year.

As the strike was unfolding, senior ministers, mining bosses and union leaders were meeting in Pretoria to try to end the instability, rooted in a turf war between the AMCU and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), a political ally of the ruling African National Congress.

More than 50 people were killed in mining unrest last year that cost gold and platinum producers billions in lost output. Tensions remain high and members from both unions have been killed in shootings in recent weeks.

The meeting, chaired by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, produced a draft agreement to work towards "ensuring law and order and ending violence and conflict".

The leaders of both the NUM and the AMCU were at the table alongside Mines Minister Susan Shabangu and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Shabanbgu has been accused of siding with the NUM but she greeted AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa warmly and sat next to him.

"We are good friends, Joseph and I. We talk all the time," she told Reuters.

The AMCU, which has emerged as the dominant union in the platinum shafts after poaching tens of thousands of members from the once-unrivalled NUM, has led two brief wildcat strikes at platinum producer Lonmin this year.

President Jacob Zuma said on Wednesday he would take a hard line against labour unrest in the sector as management and unions prepare to embark on industry-wide wage negotiations.

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