* Agreement recognises hardline union as dominant at Lonmin
* AMCU displays more disciplined focus
* Friday is first anniversary of Marikana mine massacre
* Lonmin aims to produce 700,000 oz this year
By Sherilee Lakmidas
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 14 Platinum producer Lonmin
and South Africa's hardline AMCU said they signed a
recognition accord on Wednesday in a move that averts threatened
strike action by the union.
The agreement, reached two days before the first anniversary
of the massacre of 34 striking workers shot by police at
Lonmin's Marikana mine, opens the way for wage talks between the
Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union and the
company that are expected to start within weeks.
While the deal heads off a potential strike over
recognition, the pay talks are expected to be extremely tough,
given AMCU is demanding pay hikes as high as 150 percent from
Lonmin rival Anglo American Platinum, the world's top
producer of the precious metal.
Members of AMCU, which claims most of Lonmin's workforce,
have twice this year staged brief illegal strikes at its mines
and had threatened to down tools again unless the company
recognised it as the dominant union.
The agreement formally recognises AMCU as the majority union
at Lonmin, the world's third largest platinum producer.
AMCU, which exploded onto South Africa's labour scene last
year as it wrested tens of thousands of members on the platinum
belt from the once unrivalled National Union of Mineworkers
(NUM) in a turf war, has a well-earned hard line reputation.
Lonmin was at the centre of the labour violence last year in
which more than 50 people were killed and has been recovering
from a 2012 illegal strike, rooted in the AMCU/NUM rivalry,
which forced it to turn to investors to raise more than $800
million to avoid breaching lending terms.
In recent months AMCU has displayed more disciplined focus,
orchestrating brief closures to show displeasure while pursuing
talks without resorting to the protracted and often violent
wildcat action that marked its emergence.
In wage talks with gold and other platinum producers it is
taking a forceful stance, seeking huge pay raises for the
lowest-paid workers at a time when metal prices are falling.
But on Wednesday, Lonmin management and AMCU's leadership
displayed a warmth unheard of just a few months ago.
At a press briefing, Lonmin's new chief executive Ben
Magara, an affable Zimbabwean, introduced AMCU president Joseph
Mathunjwa as "Bra Joe" - South African slang for brother.
"I'm delighted to announce the signing of our recognition
agreement ... This is key to achieving peace, stability and
prosperity for all," Magara said.
Mathunjwa, a powerful orator who has won a loyal following
in the shafts with his appeals to social justice, African
nationalism and evangelical Christianity, said AMCU could do
business with companies if treated with respect.
"It is possible to reach agreement with AMCU as long as you
treat AMCU with dignity and respect," said Mathunjwa, the son of
a Salvation Army preacher who thanked God and Jesus at the media
conference for opening the way to a resolution.
AMCU's turf war with NUM rumbles on and members of both
unions are still being killed, though it is not clear if these
are all linked to union rivalry or to criminal activity in a
country with sky-high rates of violent crime.
NUM is a key political ally of the ruling African National
Congress and the government is keen, ahead of elections in 2014,
to avert a repeat of last year's mayhem and violence which
triggered credit downgrades for Africa's largest economy.
If Lonmin can get through this financial year without
strikes, it expects to produce more than 700,000 ounces of
platinum, around 15 percent of South African output.
Labour strife has spread to other industries. South Africa's
biggest union for manufacturing plans to launch an open-ended
nationwide strike on Monday in the country's key auto sector in
a dispute over pay affecting over 30,000 assembly line workers.