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South Africa's AMCU union says members vote for Implats strike

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union said on Monday its members voted to strike at Impala Platinum , but it would not immediately give the company a 48-hour notice, suggesting a stoppage might still be averted.

"Yes, we got the mandate, they voted for the strike. But we are not in a rush to serve them notice, we want to clear up and discuss some issues first," AMCU spokesman Jimmy Gama told Reuters. AMCU's wage talks with the world's second-largest platinum producer broke down last week.

Officials from Implats were not immediately available for comment on the AMCU statement.

But a company spokesman earlier told Reuters the sides were "far apart with respect to wages and need to find innovative measures to close this gap. We remain hopeful that we could still find a win-win resolution through engagement."

The fact that AMCU was not immediately serving the company with the required 48-hour notice of a strike suggested the union wanted to find a solution but could now negotiate from a position of strength, since its workers backed the idea of a stoppage.

A strike in the platinum sector would deliver a fresh blow to Africa's biggest economy, which is projected to grow a sluggish 2.1 percent this year, after a spate of production stoppages in other sectors including the auto industry.

Implats has said it has offered its lowest-paid workers increases of at least 8 percent for 2014 and then annual raises of 7 percent in the following two years. South Africa's inflation rate is currently 6 percent.

AMCU has been pushing for a more than doubling of the minimum basic pay for entry-level miners to 12,500 rand ($1,300) a month under the populist battle cry of a "living wage."

The union has also declared a wage dispute with world No. 1 platinum producer Anglo American Platinum and a government mediator this week will try to resolve that impasse.

AMCU emerged as the dominant union on South Africa's platinum belt after it poached tens of thousands of disgruntled members from the once unrivalled National Union of Mineworkers last year in a bloody turf war that killed dozens of people and sparked a wave of wildcat strikes.

(Editing by Pascal Fletcher)

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