Platinum union declares end to South Africa's longest strike

Reuters - UK Focus

* Platinum strike "officially over" after five months

* Thousands of miners cheer wage offers

* Deal amounts to 20 pct basic wage increase

* Strike dragged down economy, hit platinum output

* Several weeks before mines start producing again (Adds quotes, details)

By Zandi Shabalala

RUSTENBURG, South Africa, June 23 (Reuters) - South Africa'sAMCU union declared a five-month platinum strike "officiallyover" on Monday as thousands of miners roared their approvalwhen leader Joseph Mathunjwa asked if they wanted to end thelongest work stoppage in the country's history.

"Yes! Yes!" the miners chorused as the union boss askedwhether they wanted to accept the wage offers from producers.

"The strike is officially over," Mathunjwa then shoutedback, to unrestrained jubilation from the tens of thousands ofworkers packed into Rustenburg's Royal Bafokeng Stadium, one ofthe venues for the 2010 soccer World Cup.

The spot price of platinum fell 1 percent, the rand firmed nearly 1 percent against the dollar to two-week highs andthe London-listed shares of number three producer Lonmin (Frankfurt: LRH.F - news) rose as much as 7 percent.

The precious metal's two biggest producers, Anglo American (LSE: AAL.L - news) Platinum and Impala Platinum (Other OTC: IMPUF - news) , are listed onthe Johannesburg stock market. It had closed by the timeMathunjwa finished his two-hour-long speech, but their sharesclosed up 1.6 percent and 1.1 percent respectively.

Mathunjwa said wage deals would be signed on Tuesday andworkers would start reporting for duty the following day, endingindustrial action that started on January 23 - five months agoto the day.

Industry sources said they could not confirm signings wouldtake place on Tuesday but expected workers to return this week.

"I'm very glad the strike is over, because we made aterrible wound in the South African economy and we are happy toheal that wound. Our children are suffering because they had nofood," said Lucas Makgwe, a miner at Amplats.

"HISTORIC DAY"

Mathunjwa, a Salvation Army lay preacher who casts himselfas a class warrior doing battle for downtrodden black minerswhose lives have changed little in the 20 years since apartheidended, was exultant.

"Today we are creating a historic day in the mining sector,"Mathunjwa, clad in a trademark AMCU green shirt, told the crowd.

"The platinum sector will never be the same. What otherunions have failed to do over many years, you have achieved infive months."

Under the populist battle cry of a "living wage", AMCU hadinitially demanded that basic wages be more than doubledimmediately to 12,500 rand ($1,200) a month. In the end, itsmembers settled for three-year deals that amount to monthlyincreases of around 20 percent, or 1,000 rand a month.

The mining companies, constrained by depressed prices andsoaring costs, had said the massive hikes AMCU was initiallyseeking would sink the industry.

Marred at times by violence, the strike hit 40 percent ofglobal production of platinum, which is used in jewellery andfor emissions-capping catalytic converters in automobiles.

The stoppage dragged Africa's most advanced economy intocontraction in the first quarter and cost the companies almost24 billion rand ($2.25 billion) in lost revenue, according to anonline tally run by the three firms. (http://www.platinumwagenegotiations.co.za/)

Companies will lose revenue for several more weeks as themines slowly grind back into life and production is restarted.

The resolution, while welcome, does not spell an end to themost turbulent bout of labour unrest since the end ofwhite-minority rule, with the NUMSA metal workers' unionthreatening a strike in the auto industry from next month.

The platinum sector also faces a painful restructuring, withjob cuts almost inevitable - in part because of the lossesincurred during the AMCU strike. That could trigger a furtherwave of walkouts or violence.

($1 = 10.7127 South African Rand) (Additional reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Ed Stoddardin Johannesburg; Editing by Ed Cropley, Pascal Fletcher andCatherine Evans)

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