Northam Platinum says strike by S.African union continues

JOHANNESBURG Fri Nov 15, 2013 4:58pm GMT

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JOHANNESBURG Nov 15 (Reuters) - South African platinum producer Northam Platinum said talks on Friday had failed to break a deadlock over wages with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), leaving no immediate end in sight to a strike which started almost two weeks ago.

"Northam has indicated its willingness to continue with facilitated talks, and is encouraged by the NUM's positive reaction to the recommendation of further discussions," the company said in a statement.

NUM officials were not immediately available for comment.

Northam said it was sticking to its latest offer of wage increases of between 8 and 9 percent compared to a current inflation rate of 6 percent.

NUM has been demanding wage hikes of as high as 43 percent from the world's fifth-largest platinum producer which has an annual output of about 300,000 ounces. Over 7,000 workers have downed tools at its operations.

Northam is one of the few platinum producers where NUM still represents most of the workers after it lost tens of thousands of members last year to the hardline Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) in a bloody turf war that killed dozens of people and sparked a wave of wildcat strikes.

NUM's tough stance with Northam partly stems from its need to counteract AMCU's militancy and retain its remaining members.

AMCU for its part remains in tough wage talks with the world's top three producers of the precious metal, Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin . It has majority representation at all three companies.

AMCU has been given permission by a government mediator to call legal strike action against Amplats and Implats but has refrained from doing so, as it appears to be lining them all up for one big strike although with the Christmas holiday period approaching, it could wait until the New Year.

Union spokesman Jimmy Gama told Reuters on Friday its deadlocked talks with Lonmin had now been referred to the government mediator but it may take weeks before such a meeting takes place.

In a glimmer of hope, AMCU has softened its demand to Implats for a minimum monthly wage, from least 12,500 rand ($1,200) - over double current levels - to 8,668 rand.

Platinum producers say depressed prices for the metal used for making emissions-capping converters in automobiles and rising costs across the board mean they can ill afford to add much to their wage bills.

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