Jan 23 - South Africa's hardline AMC Union has begun strike action over wages in the platinum sector, bringing mines that produce half the world's platinum to a standstill. Hayley Platt looks at the implications for the sector and the country.
Less than 1 in 6 employees turned up for work at Lonmin's Marikana mine in South Africa. The powerful AMC union has called a strike. It's demanding a doubling of wages for its members - and more constructive dialogue with the mine companies. (SOUNDBITE) (Xhosa) ASSOCIATION OF MINEWORKERS AND CONSTRUCTION UNION, (AMCU) LEADER, JOSEPH MATHUNJWA, SAYING: "We are not going to negotiate or engage in talks not knowing what's happening, there has to be some agreement." The walkout has hit three companies - one of them Anglo American Platinum - is only just recovering from the last round of strikes. Its latest full-year earnings showed a return to profit, thanks to higher sales and favourable exchange rates. Labour economist Loane Sharp fears the new strike could hurt both sides. (SOUNDBITE) (English) LABOUR ECONOMIST, LOANE SHARP, SAYING: "The losers are the employees who go on strike because they strike for work without pay, the losers are the mining companies who loose out on production while workers are on strike and the winners are the union bosses". The chief executives of Anglo American, Impala Platinum and Lonmin all say the wage demands are "unaffordable and unrealistic". And there are fears the country's economy could also suffer - the rand hit a five-year low after the strikes began. The government has offered to mediate. But with an election in three months politicians are keen to avoid upsetting voters. (SOUNDBITE) (English) LABOUR ECONOMIST, LOANE SHARP, SAYING: "There is no concrete government action to prevent the kind of rolling strikes that we are seeing now for eleven months of the year, I think government has lost control of the labour movement in South Africa." Police were out in force as miners protested at Marikana. Two years ago 34 miners were shot dead when strikes there turned violent. It's not clear how long this action will last but with mine companies and unions barely talking there's no sign of a solution yet.