* AMCU says offer falls short of its demand
* Police fire rubber bullets to disperse strikers
* Strike has hit more than 40 pct of world output
* Amplats share price soars on Q4 production
By Zandi Shabalala
PRETORIA, Jan 29 The world's top platinum
producers have made a revised wage offer to South Africa's AMCU
union but it falls short of its demand for a minimum "living
wage" of 12,500 rand ($1,100) a month, the union's chief
negotiator said on Wednesday.
Jimmy Gama told reporters the Association of Mineworkers and
Construction Union (AMCU) would put the offer to its members on
Thursday after the conclusion of government-brokered talks with
strike-hit Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum
Gama's tone suggested little hope for an imminent end to the
stoppage, which started last Thursday and has hit over 40
percent of global production of the precious metal used to build
emissions-capping catalytic converters in automobiles.
Tensions were also on the rise on the gritty platinum belt
after police fired rubber bullets to disperse AMCU members who
were blocking a road and preventing non-strikers from reporting
for duty at an Amplats' mine.
"How can we be satisfied with an offer that does not address
the living wage, a decent salary that we are demanding which is
12,500 rand? But we will take the offer to our members, it's for
them to decide," a subdued Gama said.
"We cannot say talks are amicable because we did not get the
offer that we want, but they are cordial. If the parties are
still far apart, it's difficult to know when it is going to be
resolved," he said.
The AMCU has been demanding minimum entry-level pay of
12,500 rand ($1,100) a month from the three platinum producers,
which would be more than double current levels.
The three companies say they can ill afford such increases
as they struggle to recover from a wave of wildcat strikes,
rooted in a turf war between AMCU and the rival National Union
of Mineworkers (NUM), which battered the sector in 2012 and led
to the killings of dozens of people.
The producers' previous disclosed offers were for wage hikes
of between 7.5 and 8.5 percent, above the current inflation rate
of 5.4 percent.
But the typical South African mine worker has eight
dependents and often two families, one near the mines and the
other in their rural home villages, and so even above-inflation
raises do not always go far to meet household budgets.
This stokes their demands but could pressure them to take a
deal as it is also hard to go for long without a regular wage.
Implats spokesman Johan Theron told Reuters the company's
wage bill in 2013 was around 7 billion rand and its last
disclosed offer would add almost 600 million rand to that.
Minimum wages in the sector are around or just below 5,000
rand a month but if various allowances and other contributions
are included, miners at the bottom of the platinum pay scale
usually get closer to 9,000 rand a month.
Also on Wednesday, Amplats, a unit of Anglo American
, said its output rose by 25 percent to 520,300 ounces in
the fourth quarter as the company regained its footing from the
violent 2012 stoppages, which tipped it into a loss that year.
Its share price rose over 5 percent, but the positive
sentiment could be short-lived if the current strike drags on or
Police said no one was hurt in the incident on Wednesday in
which rubber bullets were fired, but it highlighted tensions
around the platinum mines northwest of Johannesburg.
"The people up on top don't want to listen to our problems,"
an AMCU shop steward, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
AMCU members who had earlier gathered in a stadium near
Lonmin's Marikana operation dispersed peacefully after being
told their leaders would address them there on Thursday.
Collectively the three firms are losing almost 10,000 ounces
a day in output, worth about $14 million at current spot prices.
The strikes appear to have had little effect on spot
platinum prices so far but are weighing on investor
confidence in Africa's largest economy at a time when a global
emerging market rout has seen the rand currency sink to 5-year
lows against the dollar.
That rout forced South Africa's central bank to raise
interest rates by 50 basis points on Wednesday in step with
other emerging markets.
The strikes are also an unwelcome distraction to President
Jacob Zuma and his ruling African National Congress ahead of
elections expected in around three months' time.