* Strike to hit over half global platinum output
* Amplats says back in profit in 2013
* Strike would set back Amplats' recovery
* Government offers last-ditch mediation
By Ed Stoddard and Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo
JOHANNESBURG, Jan 22 South Africa's Impala
Platinum shut its Rustenburg operations on Wednesday a
day before a planned strike over wages across the country's
platinum belt by the hardline Association of Mineworkers and
Construction union (AMCU).
AMCU, the platinum industry's main trade union, plans to
strike from Thursday at Implats, Anglo American Platinum
and Lonmin, the top three producers of the
metal used in emissions-capping catalytic converters in cars.
The union had also planned to strike in the gold sector but
a court ruled that the strike be suspended pending a review of
Around 100,000 workers or a fifth of South Africa's mining
labour force could down tools or be prevented from crossing
picket lines in a stoppage that would hit over half of global
However, Implats said it was closing its Rustenburg
operations from its mines, processing units and smelter ahead of
Thursday's strike to ensure the safety of its employees.
"We have also deployed additional security measures,"
spokesman Johan Theron said, adding those reporting for work
during the strike would be paid even if the mines were shut.
The company said its Marula mine in the northern Limpopo
province and Two Rivers mine in the eastern Mpumalanga province
were not affected by the strike and had not been shut.
Amplats and Lonmin said they would stop operations with the
morning shift on Thursday.
Police said officers would be deployed to the platinum belt
to ensure the strikes were peaceful, a necessary precaution
after a protracted and bloody turf war in 2012 and 2013 between
AMCU and the rival National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
The chief executives of the three affected platinum
producers said on Tuesday the industry could ill-afford further
production and job losses, noting they had lost a combined
879,400 ounces of output to labour stoppages in 2012 and 2013.
Platinum traded near $1,452 an ounce on Wednesday, near a
three-month peak reached this week on the strikes.
Amplats said on Wednesday it swung back into profit in 2013
as it rebounded from a wave of wildcat strikes but its recovery
is again threatened by this week's looming industrial action.
The government, lead by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe,
has offered to mediate to try to end the dispute, which
threatens South Africa's already struggling economy.
"The three platinum producers have all accepted, so they are
willing to come together in one room to have one negotiating
team," Motlanthe spokesman Thabo Masebe said. "AMCU did indicate
that in principle they are willing to negotiate."
There were also signs of divisions in AMCU's ranks after
dissidents said this week they planned to form a rival union,
accusing its leadership of recklessly pursuing a damaging strike
they say many miners do not want and cannot afford.
Vuyo Maqanda, AMCU shop steward at Implats, told Reuters
workers there were holding a mass meeting on Wednesday to decide
whether or not to heed the strike call by AMCU leader Joseph
"Mathunjwa told the workers they need to strike, whereas the
workers don't want to go on strike. They have no money - it's
January," he told Reuters.
The union was also threatening to strike over wages at gold
mines operated by AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold
and Sibanye Gold.
The bullion producers sought a court order to halt the
action on the grounds that a wage agreement signed with last
year with the NUM - still the majority union on the gold mines -
applies to all workers in the sector.
The court is due to give its verdict on Jan. 30 and ordered
the strike be halted until then.
Besides the economic damage, President Jacob Zuma and the
ruling African National Congress (ANC) are keen to avoid labour
unrest ahead of general elections expected in around three