Strike looms at Northam

[] — South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said on Wednesday that more than 8 000 workers at Northam Platinum would go on strike on Monday over a pay rise dispute.

The NUM said in a statement that workers had overwhelmingly voted for a strike and that a notice would be served later on Wednesday to Northam. The union said it represents about 7 000 of the over 8 000 workers who voted for the strike.

Northam, which produced 321,475 ounces of platinum group metals (PGMs) in the year to end-June, has offered workers an 8 percent increase on a two-year deal. The union is demanding a 15 percent wage rise.

“The strike begins on Monday, and we are going to cause havoc at Northam Platinum,” NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka told Reuters.

South Africa, the continent’s biggest economy, has been hit by a wave of strikes and strike threats in both the private and public sectors, which have led to above-inflation settlements and stoked fears that the cost of living will rise.

Northam was not immediately able to comment.

Seshoka said the union also on Wednesday would start fresh talks with diversified South African miner Exxaro and hold separate talks with Richards Bay Minerals, a Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton joint venture, to try and end wage strikes at two mines.

“The talks with Richards Bay and (a conciliator) will start today. We will also start talks with Exxaro,” Seshoka said.

Seshoka said there was no indication from Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) whether it would agree to NUM’s 10 percent wage rise demand in a one-year deal. The Rio Tinto-BHP Billiton JV is offering 8 percent in a three-year deal.

RBM says the union has a total of 586 members at the operations, while NUM claims to represent 1 700 workers at RBM.

At Exxaro’s mineral sands unit, the NUM began the strike on August 23 and is demanding a 14 percent pay rise.

South Africa’s inflation rate slowed to a four-year low of 3.7 percent in July.