* 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 (Reuters) - 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 July 2017.
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 tally (here).
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