Published February 19, 2013
JOHANNESBURG – Anglo American Platinum expects operations at its South African mines to resume on Wednesday after workers staged a one-day walk-out following union violence at one of its mines, a spokeswoman said.
Tuesday's walk-out at the firm also known as Amplats added to tension at the world's largest producer of the precious metal, which was looking to shed about 14,000 jobs after a year of labor strife has cut into its production and revenue.
"Amplats has received information that its employees will be returning back to work tomorrow. We are happy to welcome our employees back," said spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole.
More than a dozen workers were wounded by rubber bullets or machetes in fighting at an Amplats mine on Monday, in the first major mine violence this year after deadly strife rocked the sector in 2012.
Police said the bloodshed was provoked by a dispute between the established National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and its rival, the growing Association for Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) over access to a mine office.
Amplats security guards fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowd at the mine in the Rustenburg region, about 120 km (70 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.
Some 10,000 workers gathered at the Bleskop Stadium in Rustenburg on Tuesday, angry about the company's interference in union disputes, said labor leader Evans Ramokga.
"The workers want an explanation from management as to why they interfere with union issues. Unions should fight their own battles," Ramokga told Reuters.
South Africa's rand currency weakened due to the conflict at Amplats, which unnerved investors in Africa's biggest economy, home to the world's largest known reserves of platinum.
"What it tells you is the outlook for this year is not looking good. The issues of last year have not gone away," said Justin Froneman, a platinum analyst at SBG Securities.
More than 50 people were killed in labor strife last year, including 34 shot dead by police at Lonmin's Marikana mine in August - the deadliest single security incident in South Africa since apartheid ended in 1994.
The ruling African National Congress has tried to reassure investors the unrest is not hurting the country, which had its sovereign credit rating downgraded by Fitch last month due in part to the labor problems.
But some in the government fear the simmering union turf war could erupt again.
"The price that we all paid in Marikana was too costly for us not to be concerned about the impact recent developments might have on our economy," said Thandi Modise, the premier of the North West province, which governs Rustenburg.
Amplats this month reported its first annual loss, battered by six weeks of violent strikes, soaring costs and flagging platinum prices.
The unrest cost the firm 306,000 ounces of platinum, reducing full-year output by 8 percent to 2.2 million ounces.
The company, 80 percent owned by mining giant Anglo American , has announced a drastic cost-cutting plan that could spark more unrest. It intends to cut 14,000 jobs, mothball two mines and sell another.
While a turnaround at Amplats is critical for the fortunes of its underperforming parent, unions have promised to fight any cutbacks.
Amplats is the third worst-performing stock on Johannesburg's benchmark Top-40 blue-chip index over the last 12 months, down nearly 22 percent.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Flak and Sherilee Lakmidas; Editing by Mark Potter and Alistair Lyon)