JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) said it had extended until Wednesday a deadline to more than 30,000 striking employees to accept its latest offer or face the sack.
The extension comes as the world No. 1 platinum producer struggles to end two months of wildcat action that has cut about $250 million worth of output and counting.
Amplats, a unit of global mining giant Anglo American, is carrying out a review of its South African platinum operations which is expected to lead to shaft closures and job losses.
South Africa’s gold and platinum sectors have been rocked by months of illegal and often violent strikes that have resulted in over 50 deaths, mostly at the hands of police. Most of the affected gold operations are back to work.
But fresh clashes broke out on Monday when police said officers fired rubber bullets to disperse protesting miners who barricaded a road leading to the Kroondal chrome mine operated by Xstrata.
Amplats’ latest offer included a 4,500 rand ($520) one-off payment and a pledge to start wage talks early ahead of the expiry of current agreements next year.
The offer was made initially on condition that the miners returned to work on Monday.
But the workers rejected this, and the company said it decided to grant the extension to allow national labour federation COSATU to engage with the striking miners.
“COSATU was approached by the strike committee to engage with them to facilitate a return to work of the employees who are currently on the illegal strike,” Amplats spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole told Reuters.
Amplats has said it could not afford the demands from workers of a salary increase of 4,500 rand ($520) per month, which it said would add about 2.6 billion rand to the company’s wage bill.
Amplats’ rival Impala Platinum said it expected the market for the precious metal to be in deficit for 2012 and the next few years, hurt by a decline in South African supply.
Anglo Gold Ashanti, the world’s third-largest bullion producer, last week cut its dividend and warned of restructuring at its South African operations after weeks of wildcat strikes wiped out $400 million in output.
The unrest is taking its toll on South Africa’s reputation as an investment destination.
Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s have both lowered South Africa’s credit rating, citing a lack of political leadership and rising pressure on the government to throw money at the social problems spilling out of the mines.
($1 = 8.7325 South African rand)
Editing by Ed Stoddard and Louise Heavens