Labour strife shuts world's largest platinum mine
Mine was also shut for 6 weeks earlier this year
The world’s largest platinum mine, run by Impala Platinum, remained closed for a second day on Wednesday, taking another 3,000 ounces out of global output, as a union turf war rumbled on.
“The rival unions are still playing a game of winner takes all,” Johan Theron, Implats head of human resources, told Reuters.
The fresh flare-up buries hopes of settling a labour battle that shut the Rustenburg mine, which accounts for about 15% of global output, for six weeks earlier this year. That cost Implats 120,000 lost ounces.
But markets took the fresh unrest in stride. Spot platinum was 1% lower in morning trade, extending recent losses, with the focus on the gloomy demand outlook.
Rustenburg, Implats’ flagship South African mine, has been hit by clashes between the dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).
The latest round was sparked when police say suspected AMCU supporters allegedly shot and wounded a NUM member last week.
Their arrest on Monday prompted protests, which saw most of the mine’s workforce failing to report for duty on Tuesday.
Theron said the AMCU, which has launched a recruiting drive, wanted recognition from the company and now claimed to have 10,000 members or about a third of the 30,000-strong labour force if processing workers are counted.
He said about a third of the workers were not union members so if the AMCU’s claims were true, its numbers at the operation would now roughly rival the NUM’s.
Theron said the company planned to conduct an audit of the workforce and if this was true, it would have to renegotiate its “majority union” agreement there with the NUM.
Officials from neither union were immediately available for comment but the NUM was launching a 4-day congress on Wednesday and the the AMCU challenge will likely be a point of discussion.
The stakes are high as the AMCU is widely regarded to be more radical than the NUM, which has managed to consistently secure above-inflation wage increases for its members.
Platinum miners negotiate their own contracts with workers, making them more vulnerable to recruitment drives from upstart unions than their gold or coal counterparts, which do so collectively as an industry through the country’s Chamber of Mines.
Implats’ recognition could embolden the AMCU to take the NUM on at other companies, stoking tensions on South Africa’s combustible labour front.