Top platinum producers could afford wage hikes demanded by striking miners in South Africa if their shareholders took a cut in dividends, according to a study by Manchester University and Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand.
Thousands of miners have been on strike for five months in a bid to get their employers to double their basic monthly pay to $1,180 in three years.
The platinum producers say they may be able to reach that figure over the period as long as it was the total cost to the company and included housing and benefits.
The study said that if Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum were to slash their dividends by about 20 percent, salaries could be increased by $170 a year over a four-year period – reaching the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) demands.
Lonmin, however, would need to slash its dividends by over 50 percent.
“If the past is a guide to the future, then, for Implats and Amplats in particular, if shareholders took home less, the wages could be increased easily,” researcher Gilad Isaacs said.
Top producers say the salaries demanded by AMCU would inflate their wage bill and make it unaffordable, since the industry was severely hit by the global economic crisis.
The union said it is simply demanding a decent “living wage”.
The researchers based their findings on profit margins that reached between 37 and 44 percent from 2000 to 2008 at Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin.
That is more than double the average of the top 40 firms on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, but workers took home little of the profits.
In their calculations, however, the researchers presume that commodity markets can return to the boom years of 2008, before the financial crisis, which is far from certain.
And without platinum firms fully opening their books, the claim of affordability may be difficult to prove.
What is clear is that the strike is now in its fifth month and miners have missed out on lost wages, while firms have seen production battered.
After months of the government standing on the sidelines, the mining ministry last week stepped in to try to break the deadlock.