* Illegal strikes denting investor confidence
* Amplats workers defy dismissal threats
* Strikes spread to junior gold producer
By Agnieszka Flak
RUSTENBURG, South Africa, Sept 28 South African
miners on an illegal strike against the world's top platinum
producer defied management threats of dismissal on Friday,
throwing down the gauntlet as another wildcat stoppage hit the
country's restive mining sector.
Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the top producer
of the white metal and a unit of global mining group Anglo
American, said on Thursday it would begin disciplinary
action against illegal strikers and could fire them.
Four of Amplats' Rustenburg mines, accounting for a quarter
of group output, have been idle for more than two weeks, costing
the company at least 20,000 ounces in lost output to date - $33
million at current spot prices.
A wave of illegal mine strikes is roiling Africa's biggest
economy despite the end of a bloody six-week stoppage at another
platinum producer, Lonmin , in which 46 people
Spot platinum was up 1.4 percent at $1,665.74 an
ounce, on track for a 15.4 percent quarterly rise.
Amplats said it would send text messages telling employees
to get back to work.
In the shantytowns ringing the platinum belt city of
Rustenburg, 120 km (70 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, workers
said they were prepared to stand their ground.
"Management is sending us SMSs telling us that they will
fire us, but they are lying. Too much depends on these mines,"
said Siphamandla Malchanya, a machine operator with four
"I'm not educated, my father was not educated, but my kids
must be educated. They must not face the same problems I'm
facing. We are prepared to die for this situation. We will not
go underground unless they put an offer on the table."
According to the text message seen by Reuters, Amplats is
telling workers to attend a hearing on Tuesday to argue why they
should not be fired for taking part in an illegal strike.
"Should you not make any representations, a decision will be
made in your absence," the messages says.
Anglo American launched a review of its Amplats operations
months ago as margins shrank in the face of soaring costs and
But for workers such as Malchanya, with several dependents
and rising food costs, talk of profit margins is academic,
especially after Lonmin's workers secured hikes of up to 22
percent after their violent standoff.
"We'll not accept that miners at Lonmin can get 22 pct and
we get nothing. If the company says it is losing billions from
the few days we had been on strike, then I can't accept that we
only get 5,500 rand ($670) a month," he said.
The ripples from the Lonmin settlement showed no signs of
slowing the spread of discord through the sector, as junior gold
producer Village Main Reef said 1,700 workers at its
Blyvoor operation had downed tools on Friday in an illegal
Close to 75,000 workers are on strike or being prevented
from going to work in South African mines, including at
operations run by the world's third- and fourth-biggest bullion
producers, AngloGold Ashanti and Gold Fields.
SECURING THE PEACE
Impala Platinum, the world No. 2 producer of the
metal used in vehicle catalytic converters, offered a pay hike
this week to head off a possible strike.
"The overriding imperative ... should be to ensure peace,
stability and order and in so doing create an environment for
safe production. The wage adjustment supports this imperative,"
chief executive Terence Goodlace said in a statement.
An illegal stoppage at Implats would have brought the
labour unrest full circle this year. Its Rustenburg operation,
the world's largest platinum mine, was brought to a halt for six
weeks in January and February amid a bloody union turf war
between the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction
Union (AMCU) and the dominant National Union of Mineworkers.
Implats has said the hikes will add about 5 percent to its
wage bill but has not given exact numbers.
The wider impact of the strikes hit home on Thursday when
Moody's cut South Africa's credit rating by one notch, citing
the government's inability to tackle socio-economic challenges.