Tuesday, March 05, 2013

[olympiaworkers] Lonmin miners strike in S.Africa, unnerving investors

Tue Mar 5, 2013 11:50am Reuters

* Wildcat strike launched as media tours mine

* Confusion sends rand, platinum, shares on bumpy ride

* Union feud at heart of dispute

By Sherilee Lakmidas

MARIKANA, South Africa, March 5 (Reuters) - Workers went on a wildcat
strike at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine in South Africa on Tuesday,
embarrassing the company as it launched a publicity drive to try and show
it had recovered from months of deadly labour unrest.

The world's third-largest platinum producer invited journalists to tour
the mine, but the public relations exercise backfired as thousands of
workers took advantage of the media spotlight to down tools at four

Confusion mounted after the company said they had all returned to work,
only to revise its statement when it became clear miners at two of the
shafts remained above ground.

The conflicting statements sent platinum prices, South Africa's rand and
Lonmin's shares on a bumpy ride, highlighting nerves over the health of
the country's key mining sector after months of labour unrest.

Disruptions at Marikana are particularly closely watched as it was the
site where 34 striking miners were shot dead by police last August in
South Africa's deadliest security incident since the end of apartheid in

"Things are still not right," said Johannes Liofo, a rock drill operator
at Lonmin's Karee mine. Speaking at a rock face and drenched in sweat, he
said he was still waiting for working conditions to improve.

Lonmin said workers affiliated to the Association of Mineworkers and
Construction Union (AMCU) refused to go underground on Tuesday, demanding
the closure of the offices of a rival union.

AMCU has a reputation for militancy and one of its shift bosses, Phahla
Mekela, said there was still a high level of absenteeism at the shafts,
something he attributed to widespread resentment among workers and a long
list of demands still unmet.

Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey said the miners had taken advantage of the
presence of the world's media to stage a stoppage and make their point.

"They made use of the opportunity to convey their message. They have been
heard," she said.


AMCU Members are demanding the closure of the offices of the rival
National Union of Mineworkers because they say it is no longer the largest
body representing workers there.

The turf war between AMCU and NUM, which is a powerful political ally of
the ruling African National Congress, was at the heart of much of the
unrest that hit the platinum and gold mining sectors in South Africa last
year, triggering labour violence that killed over 50 people.

The union rivalry has shaken investor confidence in Africa's largest
economy and the world's top platinum producer and led to credit downgrades
for the country.

The rand initially fell to a session low of 9.1173 and then recovered
after the company said the strike was over. Lonmin's share price fell as
much as 2 percent in Johannesburg while platinum prices jumped over 1
percent, leap-frogging gold before easing back to parity with bullion.

Investors are also nervously monitoring union reaction to plans by Anglo
American Platinum, the world's top producer of the precious metal, to
restore profits by mothballing two mines and cutting up to 14,000 jobs.

The platinum belt northwest of Johannesburg remains a flashpoint of social
and labour tension after it was the scene of riots last year and
widespread intimidation as AMCU recruited workers angered at the NUM
leadership, which they see as out of touch with the rank and file and too
close to the ANC.

Glaring income disparities and grinding poverty in the shantytowns around
the platinum mines have also fueled the violence.