* Tough talks to start in next couple of weeks
* New AMCU union has poached members from established NUM
* Anglo Platinum plans to cut 6,000 jobs
By Clara Denina
LONDON, May 17 South Africa's mining industry
can ill afford to offer wage rises during talks that are about
to start with a new and unpredictable union, so it may well face
fresh strikes, Impala Platinum said on Friday.
South African mining companies are due to embark on one of
their toughest periods of wage talks in the next one or two
weeks, with increasingly radicalised unions.
The world's biggest platinum producing country is hoping to
avoid the 2012 wildcat strike action that cost billions in lost
revenue and production.
Mining companies are hurting from a nearly 20 percent drop
in platinum prices in the last two years, as the supply
disruptions failed to offset weakness in demand for the metal
used chiefly in motor vehicle catalysts.
Workers are hoping the unions can deliver deals like the
11-to-22 percent pay rise Lonmin gave illegal strikers
after 34 were shot dead by police at its Marikana mine.
"I don't think we have a mandate yet for wage levels, I just
know from the mines' point of view that any kind of increase is
going to be difficult to afford," Derek Engelbrecht, Impala's
group executive marketing, told Reuters in an interview.
"I think there certainly is potential for further industrial
action in the form of strikes," he added.
Over the past year the Association of Mineworkers and
Construction Union (AMCU) has poached tens of thousands of
members from the once dominant National Union of Mineworkers
(NUM), which has been hurt by a view that its leaders had become
too close to management.
The AMCU leader, Joseph Mathunjwa, on Friday threatened to
bring Africa's biggest economy to a standstill and the rand
extended its slide after tumbling to a four-year low against the
dollar on Thursday on fears of a strike at Anglo American
More than 50 people have been killed in more than 12 months
of unrest stemming from a turf war between the two unions.
"We are now going into uncharted territory," Engelbrecht
said. "We are going to negotiate with a new union that we have
never dealt with before on wages, so trying to predict the
outcome would be foolhardy."
The negotiations will start against a backdrop of jobs cuts
and approaching elections.
Impala is looking at plans to cut capital and operational
expenses, including staffing numbers, Engelbracht said.
"The whole thing has been reviewed to try and reduce both
absolute and unit costs and improve productivity," he said.
The world's largest platinum miner Amplats plans to cut
6,000 jobs and mothball two unprofitable mines near the platinum
belt city of Rustenburg.
However, a protest strike called for Friday by at least two
AMCU officials failed to materialise.