World’s biggest platinum miner braces for tough wage talks

Bathopele mine in South Africa. (Image: Anglo American Platinum.)

The world’s biggest platinum producer is preparing for tough wage negotiations as higher metal prices spur labor union demands.

Talks over a new three-year industry deal are looming as the so-called rand basket price for platinum and its sister metals has surged by 20 percent to 25 percent this year. While a four-month wage dispute at Sibanye Gold Ltd.’s gold mines could spill over into the platinum pay talks, workers will probably want to avoid a prolonged strike, said Chris Griffith, chief of Anglo American Platinum Ltd., the world’s No. 1 miner.

“It will be tough negotiations but I am not expecting a long disruption,” Griffith said in an interview in Johannesburg on Tuesday. “I don’t sense that kind of appetite in the platinum-group metals industry.”

Still, the largest union in the platinum industry wants its members to share the benefits of higher prices. “Let us see that money trickle down to workers when negotiations come,” said Joseph Mathunjwa, president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. In 2014, AMCU led the longest ever platinum strike.

“I am not prophesying a strike,” Mathunjwa said. “That mandate has to come from the workers.”

Thousands of AMCU members have been on strike at Sibanye’s three gold mines since Nov. 21, and the union is appealing a labor court ruling that barred its members from widening the action across the entire mining industry.

“Its a tough environment for AMCU,” said Griffith. “They would want to try and recover some face I guess and recover some of what they have lost in the gold industry. They will see platinum as a strength, and would want to capitalize on that.”

(By Felix Njini)

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