* Many strikers have gone home
* Strike has been on for 14 weeks
* Companies betting workers want to return
By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG, April 30 Platinum producers are
trying to woo striking miners back to work by reaching out to
them in their home villages where many have returned to sit out
a 14-week stoppage over wages.
The standoff has come down to a struggle for the workers'
hearts and minds after talks between the companies and the
Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU)
collapsed last week.
Strike-hit Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum
and Lonmin are bypassing the AMCU and taking
their latest offer, which includes pay hikes of up to 10
percent, directly to the workers.
This includes a campaign in the so-called "labour-sending"
areas - mostly rural locations in the Eastern Cape province far
from the shafts northwest of Johannesburg, as well as in
neighbouring countries Lesotho and Mozambique.
Amplats' spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole said on Wednesday that
the Anglo American unit had started an outreach in those
areas last weekend.
This includes door-to-door visits by HR representatives as
well as requests that people gather at central points for public
meetings where the offer will be explained.
"For safety reasons we will not be releasing any detailed
information on the progress that we are making and we are doing
this to reduce the risk of intimidation and violence," she said.
Industry sources maintain AMCU's militant core is using
intimidation to keep members in line and say most of its workers
have returned to their home villages, so its mass rallies on the
platinum belt are not a real indication of its support.
AMCU has long denied allegations of using intimidation and
says most of its workers have come back, but the towns around
the platinum belt visited in recent days by Reuters journalists
have looked all but deserted.
The companies have also been sending out cell phone text
messages and Lonmin has said workers could sign an "intention
form" at company premises or the offices of TEBA, a mine
recruitment agency with offices in the labour-sending areas.
This strategy is predicated on two premises: that AMCU's
"enforcers" are not present in such areas and that after three
months without pay, the rank and file may be ready to fold and
go back underground to extract platinum.
AMCU is not happy with the companies' moves to bypass it.
Speaking on public broadcaster SAFM on Wednesday, Mathunjwa
said it was "tantamount to union bashing and dividing workers".
Mathunjwa said on Tuesday that AMCU's members had rebuffed the
offer from the trio, which he has dubbed a "platinum cartel".
Initially AMCU demanded an immediate increase of the basic
wage - net salary before allowances such as housing - for
entry-level workers to 12,500 rand ($1,200) a month, well over
double current levels.
The union has since said it would accept annual increases
that would reach this goal in three or four years' time.
The producers' latest offer is for wage rises of up to 10
percent and other increases that would take the minimum pay
package - the basic wage including the allowances - to 12,500
rand a month by July 2017.
They say they cannot afford any more given rising costs and
depressed prices for the precious metal used for
emissions-capping catalytic converters in vehicle engines.
Underlining this point is the muted price reaction to the
stoppage despite the over 700,000 ounces of production lost to
it so far - around 12 percent of global annual output.
Spot platinum is fetching around $1,420 an ounce, a
but lower than it was on the eve of the strike's start.
Restructuring is considered likely after the dust clears
from the strike, with job losses expected, especially around
Amplats' struggling Rustenburg operations, which it has signaled
it could sell or mothball. [D:nL6N0MZ3YA]
(Editing by Jason Neely)