Home » Platinum Miners in South Africa End Three-Day Underground Protest

Platinum Miners in South Africa End Three-Day Underground Protest

Workers return to surface after reaching agreement with Impala Platinum

by Motoni Olodun

More than 2,000 platinum miners in South Africa have returned to the surface after a three-day underground protest over pension and bonus issues. The workers, who were employed by Impala Platinum at its Bafokeng Rasimone mine, ended their sit-in on Wednesday after reaching an agreement with the company.

The protest was sparked by the workers’ dissatisfaction with the payment of their pension funds following the recent change of ownership at the mine, as well as the tax deductions on their bonus payments. The workers claimed that they were entitled to receive their pension funds in full and without any deductions, according to union officials.

The protest was not supported by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which represents the majority of workers at the mine. The NUM said that it was not aware of the workers’ grievances and that it was not consulted before the protest. The union also said that the protest was illegal and unprotected, meaning that the workers could face disciplinary action or dismissal.

Impala Platinum, which took control of Royal Bafokeng Platinum in July, said that the protest was based on “several misinterpretations and misunderstandings brought to the fore by the recent change in ownership at Impala Bafokeng”. The company said that it had engaged with the workers and clarified the issues and that it was committed to ensuring a safe and productive work environment.

The protest was the latest in a series of underground sit-ins that have hit the South African platinum mining sector in recent months. In November, more than 250 workers at Wesizwe Platinum’s Bakubung mine staged a similar protest over wage and representation demands. In October, another group of workers at Gold One Group’s Modder East mine also refused to surface over salary disputes.

These incidents have raised concerns over the stability and sustainability of the platinum industry in South Africa, which is the world’s largest producer of the precious metal. Platinum is used in catalytic converters for vehicles, as well as in jewelry and electronics. South Africa accounts for about 73% of global platinum production, followed by Russia, Zimbabwe, Canada, and the US.

However, the industry has been struggling with low metal prices, high operating costs, labor unrest, power shortages, and environmental challenges. Many platinum miners, including Impala and Sibanye Stillwater, have announced plans to cut jobs and close unprofitable shafts to survive. According to official data, the platinum mining sector employed about 168,000 people in 2022, down from 199,000 in 2010.

Despite these challenges, some analysts and experts believe that the platinum industry has a bright future, especially as the demand for clean energy and electric vehicles grows. Platinum, along with other platinum group metals such as palladium and rhodium, are essential for the development of hydrogen fuel cells and batteries, which are seen as key technologies for the transition to a low-carbon economy.

The South African government has also expressed its support for the platinum industry and has launched several initiatives to promote its development and beneficiation. These include the Platinum Valley Special Economic Zone, which aims to attract investment and innovation in the hydrogen and fuel cell sector, and the Hydrogen Society Roadmap, which outlines the potential of hydrogen as an alternative energy source for the country.

As the platinum industry in South Africa faces both opportunities and challenges, the workers and the companies will have to find a way to resolve their differences and work together for the common good. The end of the underground protest at Impala Bafokeng is a positive sign that dialogue and cooperation are possible and that the industry can overcome its difficulties and thrive in the future.

Source: Reuters

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