January 29, 2014 / 1:14 PM / 4 years ago

South Africa platinum talks resume, miners gather for rally

PRETORIA (Reuters) - Miners in South Africa gathered for a rally near Lonmin’s Marikana mine on Wednesday as government-brokered talks between the world’s top three platinum producers and the striking AMCU union continued.

The strike could be protracted as the two sides remain far apart on wage increases. It started last Thursday and has hit around 40 percent of global output of the precious metal.

Wednesday was the last scheduled day of the talks with the government mediator, and it was unclear what would happen if the negotiations remain deadlocked.

The strike by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has affected the main South African operations of Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin.

Under the battle cry of a “living wage”, AMCU is demanding minimum entry-level pay of 12,500 rand ($1,100) a month from the three platinum producers, which would be more than double current levels.

The three companies say they can ill afford such increases as they struggle to recover from a wave of wildcat strikes, rooted in a turf war between AMCU and the rival National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which battered the sector in 2012 and led to the killings of dozens of people.

Mine workers were gathering in a stadium near the Marikana mine, northwest of Johannesburg, where AMCU leaders were expected to brief strikers on the talks. Over 1,000 had gathered by early afternoon.

Marikana was the site of South Africa’s bloodiest post-apartheid labor incident, when police gunned down 34 striking miners in 2012.

Also on Wednesday, Amplats, a unit of Anglo American, said its production had increased by 25 percent to 520,300 ounces in the fourth quarter as the company regained its footing from the earlier stoppages, which had pushed it into a loss in 2012.

Its share price rose over 5 percent, but the positive sentiment could be short-lived if the current strike drags on or descends into violence.

The companies last week said AMCU’s demands were “unaffordable and unrealistic”. They have made offers of 7.5 to 8.5 percent, which exceed the current inflation rate of 5.4 percent.

Collectively the three firms are losing almost 10,000 ounces a day in output, worth about $14 million at current spot prices.

According to estimates by Thomson Reuters GFMS, the strike has hit over 40 percent of global production of the precious metal, which is used to build catalytic converters in automobiles.

The strike appears to have had little effect on spot platinum prices so far.

Additional reporting by Tosin Sulaiman in Marikana; editing by Jane Baird; Writing by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Jane Baird

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