Amplats strikers in South Africa to rally on Monday

Reuters

* Union is angry over job cuts

* Solution not easy, lay-off notices already served

* Rally expected to decide course of action

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Striking South Africanworkers at mines operated by Anglo American Platinum kept the company guessing about whether they will call off thestoppage at a rally on Monday.

Miners with the hardline Association of Mineworkers andConstruction Union (AMCU) downed tools on Friday to protestplans by Amplats, the world's largest producer of the preciousmetal, to cut 3,300 jobs to restore profits.

The strike is centred around Amplats mines near the town ofRustenburg in the restive platinum belt, where AMCU has poachedtens of thousands of members from the once unrivalled NationalUnion of Mineworkers (NUM) in a bloody turf war that has killeddozens of people the past 18 months.

The NUM said on Sunday it was taking Amplats to the LabourCourt on Tuesday to oppose the lay-offs. Its members are notofficially taking part in the AMCU stoppage but they have beenstaying away.

AMCU represents 40 percent of Amplats' workforce but thecompany on Friday said attendance levels were below 20 percent.

AMCU activists have said they will strike until theirdemands are met.

AMCU has used such stoppages in the past to express anger atcompany moves and then its leaders have told workers at ralliesto return to the shafts while they continue talks.

"We are going to continue with the strike until the companywithdraws these forced retrenchments," Makhanya Siphamandla, anAMCU organiser in Rustenburg, told Reuters by telephone. AMCU'snational leaders were not immediately available for comment.

Amplats, a unit of global mining giant Anglo American which served the workers with lay-off notices on Sept.2, has already backed away from an initial target of 14,000 jobcuts after a fierce backlash from the government and unions,including brief stoppages organised by the AMCU.

LEGALITY

Unlike those stoppages, the current action is legal and inkeeping with a change of tactics by AMCU, which was behind awave of wildcat strikes that rocked South Africa's gold andplatinum sectors last year.

Amplats chief executive Chris Griffith, mindful of howstrikes drove the company into losses last year, said on Fridaystoppages could put more jobs at risk.

Cutting jobs strikes emotional and political chords in SouthAfrica, where income disparities are glaring and theunemployment rate is officially around 25 percent but could beover 40 percent.

The mining industry has shed hundreds of thousands of jobssince the ruling African National Congress (ANC) came to powerwhen white rule ended in 1994, but the party has taken a toughline with Amplats ahead of elections next year.

NUM is also a key political ally of the ANC and its loss ofmembers to AMCU has made the ruling party especially sensitiveto worker anger in the mining shafts.

Amplats needs to find a path back to profitability givenrelatively poor global demand for the white metal used forbuilding emissions-capping converters in automobiles.

Anglo American chief executive Mark Cutifani told Reuters inAugust that "nothing is sacrosanct" and the platinum unit wouldbe removed from the portfolio if it did not deliver.

Coal producers and unions also meet on Monday to hammer outwage agreements and avert strikes that could hit exports toEurope and Asia and supplies to power firm Eskom.

Platinum wage talks have hardly gotten off the ground andcould lead to more strikes next month. This could help supportthe price as South Africa accounts for about 75 percent ofglobal supplies of the commodity.

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