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Lonmin expects mass return at strike-hit South Africa platinum mines

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - World no. 3 platinum producer Lonmin said it anticipated a "mass return to work" on Wednesday at its strike-hit South African operations, according to an internal company memo to employees.

"Managers and supervisors are returning from leave and ramp plans are in place for a safe return," said the memo, dated Friday and seen by Reuters.

"Lonmin is gearing up for a serious back to work offensive on Monday 12 May in anticipation of a mass return to work on 14 May," the memo said.

Lonmin and larger rivals Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum have been taking wage offers directly to employees in a bid to end a 15-week strike after talks with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) collapsed.

The strike is the longest and costliest ever on South Africa's mines, highlighting discontent among black miners who feel they are still not reaping the benefits of the country's mineral wealth two decades after apartheid ended.

It has hit 40 percent of global platinum supplies and dented already sluggish growth in Africa's most advanced economy.

Lonmin had already said it was hoping to restart on May 14 if enough of its workers had indicated their willingness to accept the offer by Thursday and non-AMCU union sources told Reuters on Friday managers had been visiting shafts.

The memo said striking employees could still "indicate their intention to accept the offer."

A showdown is looming on South Africa's restive platinum belt as AMCU's leaders maintain that most of their roughly 70,000 striking members are not happy with the latest offer. Its officials were not immediately available for comment on Saturday.

But the companies, betting that the rank and file are keen to return after more than three months without pay, have been going directly to the employees through campaigns that have included SMS surveys.

The Lonmin memo said a "security plan is in place" and that buses would be provided to bring workers back.

Security will be regarded as crucial as the companies say AMCU is using violence and intimidation to keep its members in line, allegations the union has denied.

Implats said on Thursday it was also conducting an SMS vote on the offer late this week.

The companies are offering increases of up to 10 percent that they say would raise the overall minimum pay package to 12,500 rand ($1,200) a month by July 2017, including cash allowances such as for housing.

AMCU had initially demanded an immediate increase to 12,500 rand in the basic wage, excluding allowances, but softened that stance in March to staggered increases that would amount to 12,500 rand within three or four years - still a third more than what the companies are offering in basic salaries.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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