| JOHANNESBURG, March 10
JOHANNESBURG, March 10 A public spat emerged on
Monday between South Africa's labour mediator and the Chamber of
Mines over the former's handling of talks to end an almost
seven-week strike in the platinum sector, further dashing hopes
of any breakthrough.
There are no scheduled talks between the two sides. The
squabbling between the group representing the producers and the
state mediator makes it doubtful that any government-brokered
negotiations will get off the ground again soon.
Tens of thousands of members of the Association of
Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) downed tools on Jan.
23 in a strike over wages at the world's top platinum producers
- Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and
Lonmin - hitting 40 percent of global output.
Last Wednesday the wage talks collapsed and the Commission
for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), the
government mediator, said the two sides remained too far apart
and needed time "to reflect on their respective positions".
Elize Strydom, the chief negotiator for the country's
Chamber of Mines who has been spearheading the talks on behalf
of the platinum producers, told the Sunday Times newspaper the
CCMA's commissioners had shown an "absolute lack of economic
acumen" when it came to the talks.
"Senior commissioners of the CCMA need to understand
economics, otherwise you cannot be a negotiator, let alone a
facilitator or mediator," she told the newspaper.
The CCMA hit back on Monday, saying it was calling on the
chamber to retract Strydom's comments or face unspecified
"We are concerned that it will impair the trust relations
key to mediation," it said.
Officials from the Chamber of Mines could not immediately be
reached for comment.
AMCU last week softened its stance for the first time,
saying it now wanted staggered increases to bring the basic
entry wage to 12,500 rand ($1,200) a month in three years' time,
more than double current levels, instead of immediately.
The companies, however, say they are sticking to their
latest offer of increases of up to 9 percent on the grounds they
cannot afford any more given rising costs and depressed prices
for the precious metal used for emissions-capping catalytic
converters in automobiles.
Platinum's spot price leapt last Wednesday to
six-month highs over $1,480 an ounce but the price reaction to
the strike has generally been fairly muted as traders have bet
that ample above-ground stocks will keep the market supplied.
As the stoppage becomes increasingly protracted, however,
there may be a rethink on this front.
The economic costs of the strike are mounting and with
general elections just two months away it is an unwanted
distraction for President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African
Employees have lost earnings of more than 3.4 billion rand
to the strike and it has cost the companies so far 7.7 billion
rand in revenue, according to a tally updated almost every
second on the Chamber of Mines' website: