* Platinum strike, longest in country's history, ended
* South African mining sector still faces huge headwinds
* Car manufacturing union plans strike on July 1
* Union says will fight planned government labour reforms
By Joe Brock
JOHANNESBURG, June 24 The end of South Africa's
longest strike will provide respite for its troubled platinum
sector, but the stranglehold unions have over a flatlining
economy has not loosened and more industrial action is looming.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU)
signed a wage deal on Tuesday with Lonmin ,
Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum to
end a five-month stoppage that dragged Africa's most developed
economy into contraction.
Around 70,000 strikers can now return to mines that account
for 40 percent of global platinum output. But production could
take years to reach pre-strike levels, while some shafts are
unlikely to re-open and job losses are inevitable, Lonmin says.
AMCU is also pushing for a strike in the gold sector
although a labour court has so far blocked those attempts.
"There is little sense of relief among investors or the
public since the propensity for strikes will continue," said
labour economist Loane Sharp at Johannesburg consultancy Adcorp.
"The long-term prospects for the mining sector are bleak."
The strike has cost platinum producers 24 billion rand ($2.3
billion) in lost revenues and miners 10 billion rand in unpaid
salaries, according to the firms.
Standard & Poor's downgraded its credit rating on South
Africa last month, partly due to the platinum dispute.
The stoppage may also have emboldened other labour
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA),
the country's biggest union with more than 200,000 members, is
threatening to down tools from July 1, a move that would hobble
the vital auto industry.
A halt to car manufacturing would hit exports, hammering an
economy that contracted in the first quarter for the first time
since a 2009 recession, while a weak rand pushed inflation above
the top end of the central bank's 3-6 percent target band.
"The key thing to watch is what happens with NUMSA. That
would have a very negative impact on the economy," said Peter
Leon, a mining analyst at law firm Webber Wentzel.
AMCU's strike dragged on so long partly because of
entrenched mistrust between the ruling African National Congress
(ANC), the mining companies and unions.
At their starkest, negotiations were overshadowed by the
spectre of Marikana, the mining town where police shot dead 34
striking AMCU miners in August 2012, the worst violence against
civilians since the end of apartheid 20 years ago.
Mining Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi, who played an important
mediation role after assuming office last month, says he wants
to overhaul union-friendly labour laws to avoid another
prolonged and nationally damaging stalemate.
"What we're proposing is restructuring of the labour
relations regime," he told Reuters. "It's not something that
will happen quickly. That is a big deal and we do need everyone
to buy into that."
Mooted proposals include more government involvement,
limiting the length of strikes or implementing pre-strike
ballots, making it harder for union leaders to go on strike and
reducing the intimidation that currently prevails.
'WE HAVE TO FIGHT IT'
Pushing through reforms will not be easy, however.
South Africa's unions enjoy massive political clout as
formal partners in a governing alliance with the ANC, a legacy
of the labour movement's central role in ending white-minority
rule two decades ago.
AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa dismissed any changes to
strike laws as he took swipes at government and business leaders
on Monday, suggesting labour disputes were far from over.
"There are those recommendations that are being put forward
to regulate the strike if it takes too long. We have to fight
it," he said after a mass rally of thousands of miners.
There is also nothing to suggest that resident Jacob Zuma
will switch from cautious, backroom consensus-builder to
"Britain was in the same labour situation in the 1970s until
Margaret Thatcher came along and reversed that through
legislation," said Leon at Webber Wentzel.
"It's different here because the fact is that the right to
strike is protected under the constitution and that's not
something you can easily trifle with."
($1 = 10.61 South African Rand)
(Additional reporting by Zandi Shabalala; Editing by Ed Cropley
and John Stonestreet)