(Repeats to additional Reuters subscribers)
* Zuma says union should ensure workers don't lose jobs
* Companies say workers intimidated to stay on strike
* AMCU president says strike to go on, no new talks set
* Miners demanding basic pay of $1,200/month in 3-4 years
(Adds company comments)
By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG, May 5 South African President
Jacob Zuma has accused the AMCU union of irresponsibility for
dragging out a wage strike in the platinum sector for almost
four months, telling reporters there was a risk of workers
losing their jobs because of the dispute.
Zuma, who has made little previous direct comment about the
strike, took aim at the Association of Mineworkers and
Construction Union (AMCU) on Monday, underscoring political
concerns about the stoppage and its impact on Africa's most
advanced economy, ahead of general elections on Wednesday.
"The union leaders have a responsibility ... to ensure
workers are protected so they don't lose their jobs. You can't
get into a strike that at the end the workers lose their jobs.
That's your responsibility," Zuma told a news conference.
Mining companies joined the attack on AMCU, saying
intimidation was being used to keep its members in line and they
would continue with their strategy of putting their offer
directly to employees to bypass the union's leadership.
But using typically combative language and evoking class
warfare, AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa lashed out at the
"platinum cabal" and its "exploitation of workers."
Mathunjwa told a news conference the 15-week strike, the
longest and most costly ever in South Africa's mines, would
continue and no new wage talks were scheduled.
The strike at the world's top producers of the precious
metal - Anglo American Platinum, Lonmin
and Impala Platinum - has hit 40 percent of
The prospect of a painful restructuring in the platinum
sector, including steep job cuts, has made the strike a headache
for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and President
Zuma as he vies for a second term in office.
"The very fact that you can introduce a kind of threshold
that you are not prepared to move on, it says there's something
wrong with AMCU," Zuma said.
AMCU is high on the ANC radar screen after it emerged as the
top union in the platinum belt in 2012, having poached tens of
thousands of members from the once-unrivalled National Union of
Mineworkers (NUM), a key political ally of the ruling party.
The companies are offering increases of up to 10 percent
that they say would raise the overall minimum pay package to
12,500 rand ($1,200) a month by July 2017, including cash
allowances such as for housing.
AMCU had initially demanded an immediate increase to 12,500
rand in the basic wage, excluding allowances, but softened that
stance in March to staggered increases that would amount to
12,500 rand within three or four years - still a third more than
what the companies are offering in basic salaries.
Wage talks collapsed over a week ago and the producers are
taking their offer directly to employees, via cell phone text
messages, radio ads and public meetings in their rural home
villages far from the shafts where many have returned.
Mathunjwa slammed the companies for such tactics and their
claims that, in the face of rising costs and depressed platinum
prices, they cannot afford to raise their latest offer.
"We are baffled about what is unreasonable (in) ... asking
for a living wage under extremely dangerous and back-breaking
work?," he said. AMCU says its wage demands could be met if
overtime for management and senior workers was scaled back.
Mining companies said they had received feedback from many
workers indicating they wanted to end the strike but were afraid
to do so.
"The companies have received feedback from a large number of
employees that while they would prefer to accept the offer and
return to work, many are fearful of doing so due to the threats
to their personal safety," the three said in a joint statement.
"Respective company security teams have documented dozens of
incidents of threats of personal harm."
AMCU, which denies allegations of intimidation, has a bloody
history. Its turf war with the NUM triggered a wave of violence
and wildcat strikes in 2012, in which dozens on both sides were
killed, including 34 AMCU mostly members shot dead by police in
a single incident near Lonmin's Marikana mine.
Mathunjwa has tapped a vein of resentment among black miners
who feel they are still not reaping a fair benefit from the
country's mineral riches 20 years after the end of apartheid.
The companies say they were bleeding cash even before the
strike. Underscoring the industry's woes is the muted reaction
of the platinum price to the strike. Spot platinum is
fetching around $1,436 an ounce, little changed from its levels
on the eve of the stoppage.
($1 = 10.4625 South African Rand)
(Additional reporting by Xola Potelwa and Joe Brock; Editing by
Ed Cropley and David Holmes)