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Implats workers trickle back

Feb 28 2012 17:02

Johannesburg - Dismissed workers were on Tuesday trickling back to Impala Platinum in Rustenburg, but the pace may have been tempered by ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema's visit, the mine said.

"When news spreads that somebody like Julius is coming, they'll take a wait-and-see approach," Implats spokesperson Johan Theron said.

Over 9 000 out of 17 200 dismissed workers had returned to work by Tuesday afternoon.

"This is much below our initial expectations," Theron said.

Implats fired the workers after they refused to return to work earlier this month, despite a court interdict declaring their strike illegal.

Theron was hopeful that dismissed workers would reapply for their jobs by the cut-off time of 15:00 on Wednesday.

"We still believe most people want to go back to work... but they are scared."

There had been four violent cases of intimidation against people heading to work on Tuesday morning, Theron said. One of them was serious, the other three were not too severe, he said.

The violent five-week protest had seen three people killed, scores injured and over 100 arrested for public violence.

"This was the first incident of violence since Friday... it may be due to the excitement of a political visit," Theron said.

Malema urged dismissed workers to negotiate with Implats and return to work with all their previous benefits reinstated.

"All must return to work, including your committee. They should not be expelled for leading the strike."

On Friday, the National Union of Mineworkers (Num), Congress of SA Trade Unions and Implats agreed that workers who reapplied for their jobs by the cut-off would be reinstated with all previous benefits.

Theron said they welcomed some of Malema's remarks.

"We are obviously very encouraged by some of the things he has said, such as stop hurting each other, return to work... negotiate with the employer.

"We are very heartened by that call... hopefully we will see a big turnout tomorrow (Wednesday)."

However, Theron was concerned there could be further intimidation.

"The instigators have obviously invested quite heavily... they have made promises to workers. Whether they will just let people go back remains to be seen."

Implats and the Num have said the problem at the mine was not the result of unhappiness over pay, but due to the meddling of another union trying to gain access.

Rival union on the scene

"What we are seeing here is not a normal wage issue, it is a direct attack by a third party on the leadership position of the Num to try and get a foothold and win over Impala employees," Theron said.

When problems first started at the mine in January, the rock drill operators - who had downed tools - refused to involve the Num in addressing their issues.

Another union, the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu), was blamed for exploiting employee dissatisfaction.

Last year, workers at platinum producer Lonmin's Rustenburg mine were involved in an illegal strike which saw many workers switch allegiance from Num to Amcu.

"It is very clear that what has happened to us has the same kind of elements as at Lonmin a year ago," said Theron.

"When the dust settled Amcu emerged as a rival union to Num at Lonmin."

He said Amcu's tactics included targeting groups of employees key to operations, such as rock drill operators, to get a foothold at a company.

"Just before and at the start of the strike, they were very active on the mines, recruiting and addressing workers."

Theron said Amcu kept a low profile once violence flared up at the mine.

Num general secretary Frans Baleni said on Monday none of the strike leaders were Num shopstewards.

"When we check their records they are newly employed... our suspicion is that these are the people that were not taken by Lonmin.

"They used this opportunity to stir and find their popularity and make mileage out of this dissatisfaction," Baleni said.

The Inkatha Freedom Party on Tuesday urged Implats employees to return to work, saying it was the first step to a speedy resolution of problems at the Rustenburg mine.

"This crisis has gone on for far too long and it could have been resolved had there been better communication between the worker parties involved," IFP spokesperson Eric Lucas said in a statement.

He said the ongoing violent behaviour at the mine was "totally unacceptable".

impala platinum  |  julius malema  |  num  |  wage demands  |  cosatu  |  strike



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