Platinum mines brace for biggest stoppage since 2012 clash

The world’s largest platinum (NYMEX:PLJ14) miners are bracing for the most severe labor turmoil since 44 people died during a strike at Lonmin Plc in August 2012.

At least 70,000 members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union plan to walk out over pay on Jan. 23 at mines in South Africa’s platinum belt run by Anglo American Platinum Ltd., Impala Platinum Ltd. and Lonmin. The area accounts for about 70% of global output of the precious metal, whose price advanced to the highest level in more than two months today amid concern a strike will hobble supplies.

The deadly clash 17 months ago at Lonmin’s Marikana mine came after workers declared “enough is enough,” AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa said last week as he addressed thousands of his members. “We also want the wealth, we want to support and raise our children.”

Speaking at the Wonderkop stadium about 100 kilometers (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg and near where police killed 34 Marikana workers in a single day on Aug. 16, 2012, Mathunjwa told members: “We are here reminding the employer that their blood was not shed for nothing.”

The union also served strike notices at gold producers AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., Sibanye Gold Ltd. and Harmony Gold Mining Co., the Chamber of Mines said in a statement today.

Strike Vote

Platinum producers have been preparing for months for a stoppage, building up weeks of supplies of the metal to ship to customers if their shafts are halted. While the AMCU has spent the past days renewing a mandate received from members before their end-of-year break for a paralyzing strike, the companies have said they are open to last-minute talks to try and avert a walkout.

Thousands of AMCU members at Anglo American Platinum, or Amplats, yesterday voted in a show of hands at a mass meeting in the town of Rustenburg in favor of a walkout.

Amplats, a unit of Anglo American Plc and the world’s largest platinum producer, has received notice that AMCU intends to strike starting Jan,. 23, spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole said today by phone. Lonmin got a similar letter, spokeswoman Sue Vey said. Impala confirmed the strike in a stock exchange filing.

The AMCU emerged as an alternative force among South African mining employees during a strike at Impala in early 2012, growing to displace the National Union of Mineworkers as the largest among platinum employees. Staging a walkout at mines now gives the union an opportunity to assert its authority as it seeks to fend off competition for numbers from the rival NUM and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa.

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