* Union is angry over job cuts
* Solution not easy, lay-off notices already served
* Rally expected to decide course of action
By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG, Sept 29 Striking South African
workers at mines operated by Anglo American Platinum
kept the company guessing about whether they will call off the
stoppage at a rally on Monday.
Miners with the hardline Association of Mineworkers and
Construction Union (AMCU) downed tools on Friday to protest
plans by Amplats, the world's largest producer of the precious
metal, to cut 3,300 jobs to restore profits.
The strike is centred around Amplats mines near the town of
Rustenburg in the restive platinum belt, where AMCU has poached
tens of thousands of members from the once unrivalled National
Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in a bloody turf war that has killed
dozens of people the past 18 months.
The NUM said on Sunday it was taking Amplats to the Labour
Court on Tuesday to oppose the lay-offs. Its members are not
officially taking part in the AMCU stoppage but they have been
AMCU represents 40 percent of Amplats' workforce but the
company on Friday said attendance levels were below 20 percent.
AMCU activists have said they will strike until their
demands are met.
AMCU has used such stoppages in the past to express anger at
company moves and then its leaders have told workers at rallies
to return to the shafts while they continue talks.
"We are going to continue with the strike until the company
withdraws these forced retrenchments," Makhanya Siphamandla, an
AMCU organiser in Rustenburg, told Reuters by telephone. AMCU's
national leaders were not immediately available for comment.
Amplats, a unit of global mining giant Anglo American
which served the workers with lay-off notices on Sept.
2, has already backed away from an initial target of 14,000 job
cuts after a fierce backlash from the government and unions,
including brief stoppages organised by the AMCU.
Unlike those stoppages, the current action is legal and in
keeping with a change of tactics by AMCU, which was behind a
wave of wildcat strikes that rocked South Africa's gold and
platinum sectors last year.
Amplats chief executive Chris Griffith, mindful of how
strikes drove the company into losses last year, said on Friday
stoppages could put more jobs at risk.
Cutting jobs strikes emotional and political chords in South
Africa, where income disparities are glaring and the
unemployment rate is officially around 25 percent but could be
over 40 percent.
The mining industry has shed hundreds of thousands of jobs
since the ruling African National Congress (ANC) came to power
when white rule ended in 1994, but the party has taken a tough
line with Amplats ahead of elections next year.
NUM is also a key political ally of the ANC and its loss of
members to AMCU has made the ruling party especially sensitive
to worker anger in the mining shafts.
Amplats needs to find a path back to profitability given
relatively poor global demand for the white metal used for
building emissions-capping converters in automobiles.
Anglo American chief executive Mark Cutifani told Reuters in
August that "nothing is sacrosanct" and the platinum unit would
be removed from the portfolio if it did not deliver.
Coal producers and unions also meet on Monday to hammer out
wage agreements and avert strikes that could hit exports to
Europe and Asia and supplies to power firm Eskom.
Platinum wage talks have hardly gotten off the ground and
could lead to more strikes next month. This could help support
the price as South Africa accounts for about 75 percent of
global supplies of the commodity.