* AMCU makes first concession on "living wage"
* Both sides still far apart
* Union plans march in Pretoria on Thursday
(Recasts with details, background)
By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG, March 4 South Africa's Association
of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) said on Tuesday it
had revised its wage demands to the world's top platinum
producers, in its first major concession as a sector-wide strike
rumbles into its sixth week.
The two sides remain far apart on the issue of wages,
however, and AMCU plans a march in Pretoria on Thursday to
protest what it says is government bias in favour of the mining
companies, suggesting its members still plan to be off work
AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa told a media briefing that
the union was now seeking staggered increases that would take
the entry wage to 12,500 rand ($1,200) a month in three years'
time, compared to an original demand for this increase to be
The demand for 12,500 rand, under the populist battle cry of
a "living wage", is more than double current levels. The mining
companies, Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum
and Lonmin, have offered increases of up to 9
percent, saying they cannot afford steep wage hikes.
"It is a move and a concession on AMCU's side but we are
still miles apart. It is still unachievable and unsustainable,"
Implats' spokesman Johan Theron told Reuters.
Companies point out that the basic wage, which would rise to
as much as 7,200 rand a month by the third year under their
latest offer, is not the whole picture.
The producers have said that what they have on the table
will take the minimum guaranteed pay of entry-level underground
employees to between 10,900 rand and 11,900 rand a month in the
third year, figures that include allowances and benefits.
AMCU was due to meet with the producers later in the day
for further talks. Mathunjwa said the revised demand was made
last week and was offered to "give the employers a breather."
In exchange, he said AMCU was willing to scale back or put
on hold demands for increases in allowances such as for housing.
ECONOMIC DAMAGE, POLITICAL FALL-OUT
The strike is a fresh blow to investor confidence in
Africa's largest economy, helping to push the rand currency
to five-year lows in January, and is an unwelcome
distraction to President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African
National Congress (ANC) in the run-up to general elections in
Despite the scale of the strike, which has hit 40 percent of
global production of the precious metal, platinum prices fell
immediately after the stoppage began on Jan. 23, reaching a
one-month low in early February, as traders bet that the
availability of above-ground stocks would cushion demand.
The spot price has clawed back those losses as the
action has become prolonged, climbing back this week in a rally
also inspired by the rising gold price to levels reached in the
run-up to the strike. At 1330 GMT spot platinum was 0.75 percent
lower on the day at $1,443 an ounce.
The strike is the latest in a series to hit the sector but
is unprecedented in that it is being staged at all of the "Big
Three" companies simultaneously.
Persistent low prices even in the face of the stoppage have
added to the woes of the platinum industry in South Africa,
which accounts for about 70 percent of global output.
The industry says almost half of the platinum shafts
operating in the country are currently not making money.
This strike has cost producers almost 6.8 billion rand
($628.68 million) in revenue and employees over 3 billion rand
so far in lost wages, according to a website streamed by the
country's chamber of mines which updates the losses almost every
But Mathunjwa said on Tuesday that AMCU's members remained
"steadfast" and that some had returned to their rural villages
far from the shafts to wait out the strike - an indication they
are digging in for the long haul.
Subsistence farmers in such areas may soon be harvesting
maize and other crops, a fall-back strategy for a striking miner
with several mouths to feed as he returns to his family plot.
Company sources have also said some of AMCU's striking
members, who hail from rural areas in the Eastern Cape province
hundreds of kilometres from the platinum belt, have returned
AMCU, which often uses marches and protests as displays of
force to show it retains rank and file support, still expects a
large turnout at Thursday's protest, where it said it will be
joined by other unions.
The march will head to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the
seat of South Africa's government, to protest what AMCU says is
the government's taking of "sides in favour of the employers."
AMCU accuses mines minister Susan Shabangu of advising the
platinum producers to attempt to pursue various legal avenues
against the union, which the producers have denied.
There is a political dimension to South Africa's labour
strife as AMCU emerged as the top union on the platinum belt in
2012 after wresting tens of thousands of members in a bloody
turf war from the once unrivalled National Union of Mineworkers,
a key ally of the ruling ANC.
($1 = 10.8163 South African rand)
(Additional reporting by Jan Harvey in London; Editing by Susan