World’s biggest platinum miners ask court to block strike

Dishaba platinum mine, in the Limpopo province of South Africa. (Image courtesy of Anglo American Platinum)
South African platinum producers, the world’s biggest miners of the metal, have asked a court to block a planned strike by one of the country’s largest mining unions that the companies say would further hurt the struggling industry.

Anglo American Platinum Ltd., the world’s top platinum-group metals supplier, and other producers want the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union to be denied the legal right to start a seven-day strike at platinum mines on Feb. 28. The walkout would follow a strike over wages that’s been underway at Sibanye Gold Ltd.’s gold mines since November, and worsen already fraught labor relations.

 The threat of more strikes also comes as palladium, which is mined with platinum, surges to fresh records.

“We are of the view that AMCU is not acting in the best interests of workers, or the industry,” the Anglo American Plc unit said. The outcome of the court interdict to block the strike is expected Wednesday.

Industry-wide action would signal deteriorating relations between producers and the militant union that held the longest-ever strike in the country’s platinum sector in 2014. Producers there operate some of the world’s deepest, costliest and most labor-intensive mines, and are bracing for a fresh round of wage talks with AMCU this year. The threat of more strikes also comes as palladium, which is mined with platinum, surges to fresh records.

Companies have a “strong legal case” to avert the strike, the Minerals Council South Africa said. The lobby group estimates producers could lose 1.3 tons of PGM production, equal to more than 500 million rand ($36 million), for each day that workers don’t show up.

Output losses will depend on the number of workers who down tools, Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd.’s spokesman said. Sibanye has made preparations for the strike and doesn’t expect production to be significantly impacted, spokesman James Wellsted said.

“In the event of a strike proceeding, it would not be the case that work could restart immediately,” the council said. “A strike is always disruptive for longer than the period of the actual strike.”

(By Felix Njini) 

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