Striking Amplats miners agree to return to work – by Ed Stoddard (Globe and Mail – January 17, 2013)

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JOHANNESBURG — Reuters – Anglo American Platinum Ltd. (Amplats) miners will end an illegal walkout from Wednesday night and want talks to prevent further action against the world’s largest producer of the precious metal, a labour leader said.

Workers at three of Amplats’ South African mines went on a wildcat walkout from Tuesday’s overnight shift, hours after the company, a unit of London-listed Anglo American, announced plans to mothball shafts and cut 14,000 jobs.

“The strike was only for last night,” Amplats labour leader Evans Ramokga told Reuters. He added workers would press management to find a way to head off job cuts, which were equal to about 3 per cent of South Africa’s overall work force in the mining sector. Amplats officials were not immediately available to comment.

Amplats earlier said an unspecified number of employees at its Khomanani, Thembelani and Tumela mines, in the heart of South Africa’s platinum belt, had refused to go underground.

Only Khomanani was among the mines slated for indefinite closure or sale by the company, so the wildcat action indicates militant labour activists had persuaded miners in other shafts to join sympathy strikes.

The protests, which were expected after Anglo American unveiled its restructuring plans, combined with strong government objections to job cuts show how difficult it will be for the mining giant to push through changes critical for its recovery and that of its loss-making unit.

“The restructuring itself was fairly ambitious, it was probably not as much as some people wanted and more than others expected,” analyst Jeff Largey at Macquarie in London said.

“Now it comes down to execution risk and the way things are looking right now, it is going to be more challenging than Anglo thought.”

The mining communities and shantytowns around the platinum belt city of Rustenburg, 120 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg, have been a flashpoint of labour and social unrest.

Amplats’ share price closed nearly 6 per cent lower while Anglo American’s was down almost 3 per cent in late afternoon trade, one of the biggest fallers on Britain’s top share index .

South Africa sits on about 80 per cent of the known reserves of platinum, used to build emissions-capping catalytic converters in automobiles, but weak demand has depressed the price. It rallied to three-month highs on Tuesday because of supply concerns triggered by the Amplats proposals.

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