Amplats workers call off strike

Thu, Jan 17, 2013, 00:00

Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) miners ended an illegal walkout last night but want talks to prevent further action against the world’s largest producer of the precious metal, a labour leader said.

Workers at three of Amplats’s South African mines went on a wildcat walkout from Tuesday’s overnight shift, hours after the company, a unit of London-listed Anglo American, announced plans to mothball shafts and cut 14,000 jobs.

“The strike was only for last night,” Amplats labour leader Evans Ramokga said. He added workers would press management to find a way to head off job cuts, which were equal to about 3 per cent of South Africa’s overall workforce in the mining sector.

The protests, which were expected after Anglo American unveiled its restructuring plans, combined with strong government objections to job cuts show how difficult it will be for the mining giant to push through changes critical for its recovery and that of its loss-making unit.

The mining communities and shantytowns around the platinum belt city of Rustenburg, 120 kms (70 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, have been a flashpoint of labour and social unrest.

Amplats’s share price closed nearly 6 per cent lower while Anglo American’s was down almost 3 per cent in late afternoon trade, one of the biggest fallers on Britain’s FTSE index .

South Africa has about 80 per cent of the known reserves of platinum, used to build emissions-capping catalytic converters for the automotive sector, but weak demand has depressed the price. It rallied to three-month highs on Tuesday because of supply concerns triggered by the Amplats proposals.

The planned job cuts and closures risk provoking a repeat of the violent wildcat strikes in the gold and platinum sectors last year that left more than 50 people dead and slowed the growth of Africa’s largest economy.