JOHANNESBURG Wage talks between South Africa's AMCU union and the world's top three platinum producers resumed on Tuesday to try to end a nearly two-week strike that has seen outbreaks of violence and is costing the country an estimated $36 million a day.
Members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) walked out at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Impala Platinum and Lonmin in January, demanding that monthly wages be more than doubled.
Police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse about 3,000 striking miners at an Amplats shaft on Tuesday, and have been involved in several clashes since the strike started.
They have been patrolling the platinum belt for weeks, wary of a repeat of the bloodshed of the last two years which has killed dozens of miners, notably at Marikana where police shot 34 dead 18 months ago and several policemen were killed.
The government has been unable to soothe tensions in the mining area, 120 km (70 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, where miners are angry about their lack of economic progress two decades after the end of apartheid.
This strike has halted production on about 40 percent of global platinum supply.
"The strikes are currently costing the industry about 197 million rand per day," Roger Baxter, chief operations officer at South Africa's Chamber of Mines, the main industry body, said.
"We estimate that the daily cost to the country is closer to 400 million rand ($36 million) a day," he said.
Government mediators said on Sunday they had made a proposal to end the strike but did not give details.
"They (the miners and the companies) will meet for three days," a spokeswoman for the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration said, as the talks started in the capital Pretoria on Tuesday.
Amplats Chief Executive Chris Griffith said on Monday there might be progress by the end of this week as people "don't want this to be a protracted strike".
The government has stepped in to mediate to avoid damage to an already struggling economy and to the political standing of President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African National Congress, which faces general elections in about three months.
The producers, squeezed by soaring costs and weaker platinum prices, say the wage demands are unaffordable and unrealistic.
Wildcat strikes in 2012 also dented profits and output.
Labor group, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), walked out at Amplats refineries and smelters on Monday, but operations have not been affected, the company said.
($1 = 11.2320 South African rand)
(Additional reporting by Zandi Shabalala in Johannesburg and Wendell Roelf in Cape Town; Editing by Louise Ireland)