South African court blocks mine union's plan for industry-wide strike

RUSTENBURG, South Africa (Reuters) - South Africa’s labor court has rejected a request by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) to hold an industry-wide strike covering the platinum and gold sectors, Anglogold Ashanti, Anglo American Platinum and Lonmin said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Members of South Africa's Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) chant slogans during a march to the Minerals Council of South Africa in Johannesburg, South Africa, January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

AMCU has been on strike at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold operations since mid-November in a pay dispute. It wanted to extend the strike to at least 11 other mining firms including Anglo American’s gold and platinum operations, Harmony Gold and Lonmin.

The union said it was shocked and would appeal the decision, adding that “secondary strikes are an integral part of the constitutional right to strike”.

In a written judgment, labor court judge Connie Prinsloo said an extended strike would put the entire economy at risk.

“This factor certainly outweighs the negligible effect the secondary strike may have on Sibanye and therefore renders it unreasonable,” the judge said.

Sibanye’s U.S.-listed shares rose around 3 percent on the judgment, while on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange they gained 1.5 percent.

Mine firms, struggling with volatile commodity prices globally and rising costs at home along with political uncertainty, said the judgment would help stabilize their operations.

South Africa is home to the world’s biggest deposits of platinum group metals, accounting for around 70 percent of global production.

Data on Thursday showed gold production contracted for the 15th month in a row, shrinking by 22.5 percent in January, while platinum output was up 8.8 percent in the same period.

“We welcome the decision of the court to grant an interdict against the secondary strike action called by AMCU. We maintain that a secondary strike by AMCU would not be in the best interests of our employees or the industry,” Anglo American Platinum’s chief executive, Chris Griffith, said.

Job cuts are politically sensitive in Africa’s most industrialized economy, where the unemployment rate is more than 27 percent, and more so with national elections due in May.

Rivalry at numerous mines between the militant AMCU and the National Union of Mineworkers has seen work stoppages drag on and often turn violent.

Last week, Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe asked police to intervene as violence near Sibanye’s mines in Carletonville, west of Johannesburg, had resulted in nine deaths and around 62 houses being burned down.

Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; Writing by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Dale Hudson and Mark Potter