* Strike has cost producers over 14 bln rand in revenue
* Sides remain far apart on issue of wages
* Strike is now into its 13th week
By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG, April 22 Chief executives of the
world's top platinum producers were to again meet the leaders of
the AMCU union on Tuesday for wage talks in a bid to find an
agreement to end the longest and most costly strike on South
Africa's mines in living memory.
"They will be meeting this morning but at an undisclosed
location," said a spokeswoman for the producers.
Around 70,000 members of the hardline Association of
Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) downed tools 13 weeks
ago at Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum
and Lonmin .
Initially demanding an immediate doubling of the basic wage
- the salary before various allowances are added such as housing
- for entry-level workers to 12,500 rand ($1,200) a month, AMCU
has since said it would accept annual increases of around 30
percent that would reach this goal in three years' time.
The producers' latest offer, made last Thursday, was for
wage hikes of up to 10 percent and other increases which would
take the minimum pay package - the basic wage including the
allowances - to 12,500 rand a month by July 2017.
"That is as much as we can reasonably afford at this time,"
Implats spokesman Johan Theron told Reuters.
The companies have been struggling to maintain margins in
the face of steeply rising costs on one hand and stubbornly
depressed prices on the other for the precious metal used to
build emissions-capping catalytic converters in automobiles.
Tuesday's talks were being facilitated by the country's
department of labour but there has been little political
intervention to resolve the dispute even though it is a headache
for President Jacob Zuma and the ruling ANC with a general
election looming May 7.
Exacerbating the industry's woes is the muted price reaction
to the stoppage despite its scale, with around 40 percent of
global platinum production idled at the moment, according to
estimates by Thomson Reuters' GFMS.
Traders have bet there are adequate above-ground stocks and
demand remains far from robust in key markets such as Europe,
where diesel engines which require high platinum content in
converters are favoured.
The metal's spot price is currently fetching about
1,408.00 an ounce, around three percent lower than it was on the
eve of the walk out which began on Jan. 23.
At the same time, the producers' viability is being shaken
by the strike. The producers have lost 14.2 billion rand ($1.35
billion) to date and counting since it began, according to an
industry web site which constantly updates the tally (here).
This state of affairs is seen hastening a painful
restructuring in the sector which could see thousands of jobs
cut and more platinum taken out of production, with much of the
focus on Amplats' operations around the mining town of
Rustenburg northwest of Johannesburg.
Workers have lost around 6.3 billion rand in wages so far
and their resolve could be weakening as they go their third
consecutive month without a pay check.
Mineworkers in South Africa on average support eight
dependants. This fuels their wage demands but also makes it hard
for their households to go for long without their income.
AMCU shop steward Siphamandla Makhanya told Reuters as far
as the union was concerned, the employers' latest package was
"not the final offer" and so it did not immediately plan to take
it to members for a vote.
($1 = 10.4977 South African Rand)
(Additional reporting by Zandi Shabalala; Editing by Louise