(Reuters) – South African platinum producer Lonmin said on Thursday it might go to court in a bid to stop a 16-week strike because of the levels of violence faced by workers who want to return to work.
The company also said some miners had turned up for work at its operations, but provided no numbers as efforts continued to end the longest and costliest stoppage in the sector’s history.
Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum have also been hit by the wage strike by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which has turned violent in recent days as miners tried to go back to work.
“The levels of violence are worrying, those will lead us to find all options including going to court to stop the strike,” Lonmin spokeswoman Lerato Molebatsi told journalists near Lonmin’s Marikana mine.
Four miners were killed at the weekend as some employees prepared to go back to work at Amplats and Lonmin. Implats’ main operations around the platinum belt town of Rustenburg remain completely shut.
AMCU’s arch rival on the platinum belt, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), said it had told its members to stay clear of strike-hit platinum mines because of intimidation.
On Wednesday, stick-wielding strikers from AMCU prevented others from returning to Lonmin’s shafts.
The producers have said many of the strikers had indicated a willingness to accept the latest pay offer through SMS polls. They took their latest wage offer directly to employees through mass mobile phone messages – asking for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ reply – after wage talks with AMCU collapsed three weeks ago.
Molebatsi said the SMS campaign had created a “security risk” for those receiving them, so the company had brought the practice to a temporary halt.
South Africa’s police minister vowed on Wednesday to crack down on violence against those who wanted to return to work and arrest strikers he said were behind a campaign of intimidation.
Regional police spokesman Thulani Ngubane said on Thursday no arrests had been made yet. “The perpetrators are known and it is only a matter of time,” he said.
AMCU has always denied allegations that it uses violence and intimidation to keep its rank and file in line and has accused the state of colluding with companies to target it.
But it has a violent history, emerging as the top union in the platinum shafts in 2012 when it poached tens of thousands of NUM members in a brutal turf war that killed dozens of people and triggered a wave of illegal strikes that year.
The current stoppage has hit about 40 percent of global production of the precious metal used for emissions-capping catalytic converters in automobiles, with about 880,000 ounces lost to date, according to Reuters’ calculations.
Even in the unlikely event of the strike ending soon, it will almost certainly take out over a million ounces or close to a quarter of South African supply as any ramp up will take weeks.
Despite its scale, the strike has had little impact on spot prices as traders have bet there are adequate above-ground stocks, but the latest developments pushed it to two-month highs on Wednesday over $1,470 an ounce and it is within striking distance of eight-month peaks.
The companies are offering increases of up to 10 percent that they say would raise the overall minimum pay package to 12,500 rand ($1,200) a month by July 2017, including cash allowances such as for housing.
They say they can go no higher given rising costs and depressed prices and Lonmin’s chief executive Ben Magara said on Monday restructuring and job cuts were inevitable as it posted a steep fall in six-month earnings.
AMCU had initially demanded an immediate increase to 12,500 rand in the basic wage, excluding allowances, but softened that in March to staggered increases that would amount to 12,500 rand within three or four years – still a third more than what the companies are offering in basic salaries.