* Implats says workers voting by text and phone
* Strikers have lost combined 7 bln rand in wages
* Lonmin sets May 8 deadline for workers to accept offer
* Producers have lost nearly 16 bln rand in revenue
* Platinum prices seen climbing by year-end
(Updates with more clarity on Lonmin)
By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG, May 2 Impala Platinum
said on Friday that two thirds of its striking workers had
indicated by text messages and phone calls that they want to
accept the company's latest wage offer and end South Africa's
longest and most costly mining strike.
The 14-week strike by the Association of Mineworkers and
Construction Union (AMCU), which has also hit Anglo American
Platinum and Lonmin, has taken out 40 percent
of global platinum production and cost the companies nearly 16
billion rand ($1.5 billion) in lost revenue.
Implats spokesman Johan Theron told Reuters that workers who
were unable to send texts because they have no money for air
time were making use of telephones at mine recruitment offices.
"We will have a totally clear picture next week," he said.
AMCU General Secretary Jeffrey Mphahlele declined to comment
on the company's claim, but the union said it planned to hold a
press conference in Johannesburg on Monday.
The producers last week said they would take their latest
offer directly to the roughly 70,000 striking miners after talks
collapsed, setting the stage for a dramatic showdown.
Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey said the company had asked
employees to indicate their acceptance of the offer by May 8 and
that if enough did so, it could then aim to restart its
operations on May 14.
"Our call centre is taking calls from employees explaining
what the offer would mean to employees individually. Should we
receive sufficient numbers of positive responses representing
the correct mix of skills, we have set a provisional return to
work date of 14 May 2014," she said.
AMCU had initially demanded an immediate increase in the
basic wage - net salary before allowances such as housing - for
entry-level workers to 12,500 rand ($1,200) a month, more than
double current levels. It has since said it would accept annual
increases that would reach this level in three or four years.
The producers' latest offer is for rises of up to 10 percent
and other increases that would take the minimum pay package -
the basic wage including allowances - to 12,500 rand a month by
They say they cannot afford to pay more, given rising costs
and depressed prices for the precious metal used for
emissions-capping catalytic converters in automobiles.
FORCING AMCU'S HAND
The companies are clearly trying to force the hand of AMCU
and betting that its rank and file are ready to return to the
shafts after three straight months without pay.
Employees have lost more than 7 billion rand in wages so
far, according to an industry website that provides a running
Amplats said on Wednesday that it was holding public
meetings in what are known as the "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.
The stakes could hardly be higher given the producers' huge
and escalating revenue losses.
Restructuring is considered likely after the dust clears
from the strike, with job losses expected, especially around
Amplats' struggling Rustenburg operations, which the company has
signalled it could sell or mothball. [D:nL6N0MZ3YA]
This makes the strike a political headache for President
Jacob Zuma and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) with a
general election looming next Wednesday.
AMCU emerged as the top union in the platinum shafts after
poaching tens of thousands of members from the National Union of
Mineworkers (NUM), a key political ally of the ANC, in a vicious
2012 turf war that killed dozens of people and triggered a wave
of violent wildcat strikes.
AMCU and its president Joseph Mathunjwa have tapped a deep
vein of resentment among black miners who still feel they are
not reaping fair benefit from the country's rich mineral
resources despite 20 years of multiracial democracy.
But the industry is bleeding cash and underlying its woes is
the muted price reaction to the stoppage, even though more than
700,000 ounces of production have been lost so far - about 12
percent of annual global output.
Spot platinum is fetching around $1,417 an ounce, a
little lower than it was on the eve of the strike.
Prices are expected to climb back to levels not seen in over
a year later in 2014 as the impact of the strike starts to be
felt, GFMS analysts at Thomson Reuters said as they launched
their Platinum & Palladium Survey 2014.
($1 = 10.4830 South African Rand)
(Editing by Joe Brock, David Goodman and Pravin Char)