It's back to work for miners

THE five-month platinum strike ended with a bang yesterday as Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) president Joseph Mathunjwa addressed thousands of cheering and singing miners in Rustenburg and declared it over.

"Amcu has officially terminated the strike. We start reporting back to work‚" Mathunjwa said following the mass meeting.

The rand strengthened on the news as did the share prices of all three platinum companies involved.

The wage agreement is to be formally signed today.

The producers – Anglo American Platinum (Amplats)‚ Impala Platinum (Implats) and Lonmin – were reluctant to comment yesterday before the agreement had been signed‚ saying they would share the details later today.

"We are waiting for formal feedback and are hopeful that we will conclude an agreement‚" Implats corporate relations head Johan Theron said.

Amplats spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole said the company expected to meet Mathunjwa late last night or early this morning to formally hear Amcu's response.

But by all appearances the deal has been endorsed by workers‚ who gave Mathunjwa a hero's welcome at yesterday's rally.

He read out the terms of each three-year agreement‚ to which workers chanted: "Sign! Sign!"

The agreement provides for a R1000-a-month increase each year for the two lowest bands of employees. These include unskilled labour and semi-skilled labour such as rock drillers and other machine operators.

In the trade-off to make this affordable to the companies‚ other categories will receive an increase of 7.5%-8% on their basic wage.

Minor adjustments were made to the in-principle agreement that producers and the union agreed to on June 12.

Amcu added several more demands‚ including the payment of a R3000 signing-on bonus. But almost none of the additional demands were agreed to by employers‚ save for an adjustment to the living-out allowance.

A key additional demand by Amcu had been an undertaking that there would be no forced retrenchments after the strike.

This was not among the terms of the agreement read out by Mathunjwa‚ who said further details of the settlement would be made available later this week.

"What is important is what was read here‚" he said. "Let's confine it as a victory for now ... we are returning to work."

However‚ analysts pointed out that it would take the strikers many years before they were able to make up their lost wages. - Karl Gernetzky and Carol Paton