| JOHANNESBURG, March 13
JOHANNESBURG, March 13 South Africa's
Labour Court has suspended a safety stoppage at a mine operated
by Northam Platinum in the first corporate legal
challenge to a government drive that has cut output in the
world's largest platinum producer, a union said.
South Africa's department of mineral resources has upped
on-site inspections and dramatically increased its issuing of
"Section 54s" -- the regulation evoked to temporarily close
mining operations for safety violations.
"Northam Platinum brought an application for an urgent
interdict in order to have a section 54 order issued to the
company's Zondereinde mine declared invalid," trade union
Solidarity said in a statement.
"The Labour Court provisionally ruled in the employer's
favour and gave the department until 27 March 2012 to submit
replying affidavits," it said.
Neither the company nor officials at the department of
mineral resources were immediately available for comment.
But a copy of the court order obtained by Reuters says that
the Section 54 is "suspended, pending the resolution of this
Such a challenge is rare and comes against the backdrop of
industry frustration at the safety campaign and the blanket
nature of the stoppages, which have seen the closure of entire
Safety-related stoppages cost the platinum sector 300,000
ounces last year in lost output -- about 5 percent of global
production and worth about $500 million at current prices.
But the department of mineral resources has said the
industry needs a shake-up to cut deaths in the country's mines,
the world's deepest and among its most dangerous.
In the first two months of this year, government data
obtained by Reuters shows 22 people were killed compared with 20
in the same period last year. In the platinum sector, the death
toll rose to seven from five.
Injuries in the January to February period this year fell
almost 60 percent to 190 from 466.
Fatalities and injuries in the Rustenburg area are also down:
deaths over the period fell to 4 from 7 while injuries plunged
87 percent to 19 from 148.
This could stem in part from working days lost to the
stoppages and a six-week illegal strike at Impala Platinum's
Rustenburg operation, the world's largest platinum
PGM output in South Africa fell 19.5 percent year on year in
January, official data showed on Tuesday.
(Editing by Jason Neely)