Wildcat strikes up stakes in S.Africa labour game

* Marikana bloodshed puts labour relations on new footing

* ANC-union alliance losing grips on labour

* Rand falls, confidence wanes due to strikes

By David Dolan and Jon Herskovitz

IKANINI, South Africa, Oct 7 (Reuters) - The rules of thegame in South Africa's labour market have changed and the newplayers are workers such as Tshepo Modise and Thulani Soko,wildcat strikers at mining giant Anglo American Platinum(Amplats) .

They feel underpaid, stretched to the limit financially andbetrayed by established unions they say are more concerned aboutties with politicians and management than workers in the shafts.

But to a few global mining firms, they are part of anoverpaid workforce breaking their contracts and in thecrosshairs for sacking as costs are cut at marginal shafts inSouth Africa.

"We no longer want to sit at the table with unions. We'vebeen sabotaged," said Modise, a 30-year-old machine operator atIkanini, a slum settlement next to an Amplats mine 120kilometres (75 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.

Since the end of apartheid in 1994, workers have won steadywage increases, but millions of jobless South Africans havemissed out on the gains, becoming reliant on the state orrelatives for help.

Income inequality in South Africa, already among the world'shighest, has grown worse since the former liberation movementAfrican National Congress took over after the end ofwhite-minority rule.

Modise and his 33-year-old colleague Soko speak bitterlyabout living conditions in Ikanini, where there is no runningwater or electricity, compared with the prosperity of minemanagers who live nearby.

The unrest has also led to job losses; Amplats on Fridaysacked 12,000 wildcat strikers, and the next day AtlatsaResources dismissed some of the 2,500 workers who wenton strike this week at its Bokoni platinum mine.

Each miner supports on average eight to 10 people, oftenliving in abject poverty, according to industry data, so thesackings could cut off income to more than 100,000 people.

Strikers said at the weekend they would stay off the job topress the mining giant Amplats to take the workers back.

The head of the National Union of Minework er s warned ofrenewed violence. The labour strife has already led to the deathof 49 people since August, including 34 shot dead by police atLonmin's Marikana platinum on Aug. 16 - the worst securityincident in ANC rule.


In terms of lost working days, the strikes this year arerelatively mild, but the unrest is by far the most violent sincethe end of apartheid.

In 2011, 6.2 million working days were lost to strikes. Thenumber so far this year is less than 2 million working days,according to the Andrew Levy Employment, a labour consultancy.

President Jacob Zuma's ruling ANC and its governing alliancepartner, the COSATU labour federation, have kept a lid onstrikes by pushing deals for incremental wage raises, therebyguaranteeing a steady labour supply.

The strikes are now beyond the control of the government andCOSATU, as fed-up workers hold out for big pay rises, in somecases double or triple their salaries.

In one of the largest blows to the ANC-COSATU labouralliance forged in the struggle to end apartheid, wildcatstrikers at Lonmin's Marikana mine reached a deal in Septemberfor yearly wage increases as high as 22 percent.

Within hours, workers at nearby platinum mines called forsimilar deals. In the days that followed, wildcat strikes hitsectors including gold, iron and car manufacturing.

"Marikana is the future of labour relations in SouthAfrica," said Loane Sharp, a labour economist at staffing firmAdcorp.

"The labour strikes are so much more damaging and dangerous,but they still do not seem to be enough for government to learnthe lesson that the labour market is in a shambles," he said.


The strikes pushed the rand to 3-1/2 year lows last week andprompted Moody's last month to cut South Africa's governmentbond rating, citing the government's difficulty in keeping upwith economic challenges and widening strikes.

"The South African government has not implemented the kindsof policies to deal with these structural pressures. They areboiling over to the loss of legitimacy for the main,post-apartheid institutions, including the unions and the ANC,"

said Mark Rosenberg, an Africa analyst at Eurasia Group.

To appease its allies in COSATU, whose 2 million membershave been a powerful vote-gathering machine, the ANC has passeda raft of union-friendly labour laws that economists said haveeroded competitiveness and driven up costs for employers.

As a result, South Africa ranks worst among 144 countries interms of employer-labour relations and next to worst in terms ofoverpaying unproductive workers, according to the World EconomicForum's Global Competitiveness Report.

Nor is anything likely to change this year, with ANC leadersmore preoccupied with an internal leadership election at the endof the year than the labour strife, which JP Morgan said islikely to put a dent in 2012 growth.

"South Africa is experiencing a perfect storm as weakeningdomestic demand coincides with large drags from strikes inmining, downward momentum in manufacturing and political newsflow ahead of ANC elections at year-end," it said in a researchnote.

(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Will Waterman)

((jon.herskovitz@thomsonreuters.com)(+27 11 775-3142)(ReutersMessaging: jon.herskovitz.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))