JOHANNESBURG South Africa's deputy president will meet with the mining industry and unions on Thursday for a regularly scheduled forum aimed at bringing stability to the sector, as a crippling platinum strike approaches its ninth week.
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe's spokesman Thabo Masebe said the meeting would have taken place even if there was no strike, but it could give the world's top platinum producers and the striking AMCU union a chance to meet for the first time since wage talks collapsed almost three weeks ago.
Asked if issues around the strike would be raised, an industry source said the meeting would "cover all of these critical aspects".
Motlanthe is the government's point man on labour tensions in the country's mining sector but past meetings have done little to ease them.
The biggest mining strike in South Africa since apartheid ended two decades ago is hitting economic growth, making it an unwelcome distraction for President Jacob Zuma and his ruling ANC party as general elections loom on May 7.
Thursday's meeting will be attended by the main mining unions, including the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), whose members downed tools almost nine weeks ago at Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin, hitting about 40 percent of global output of the metal.
Companies are expected to send representatives under the umbrella of the country's Chamber of Mines, which has been conducting wage talks on behalf of the platinum industry.
There are no official negotiations scheduled, AMCU Treasurer and chief negotiator Jimmy Gama told Reuters on Monday.
The sides remain poles apart on the issue of wages.
AMCU said in early March it had softened its stance for the first time, saying it 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 are sticking to their offer to raise pay by 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.
Spot platinum prices are about 37 percent below record highs scaled six years ago, underscoring the industry's wider woes as costs and lost production eat into razor-thin margins.
(Reporting by Zandi Shabalala and Ed Stoddard; Editing by David Holmes)