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Mine labour strife continues

Oct 15 2012 18:06 Sapa

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Johannesburg - Several wildcat strikes in the mining sector continued this week, with companies taking a firmer stance by firing workers or abandoning talks in an attempt to end labour disputes.

The SA Chamber of Mines said it was giving up on negotiations after unions said their members had "mixed reactions" to employers' proposals and could not confirm they would return to work.

"In response, the chamber has indicated that it is not in a position to make any further proposals and that it, and the individual companies, will now explore other avenues to try to bring normality to the gold mining industry," the chamber said in a statement.

Last week, the chamber agreed to give the unions an extension to communicate the proposals to workers. They had until Monday to return with a response.

On behalf of AngloGold Ashanti [JSE:ANG], Gold Fields [JSE:GFI], and Harmony Gold Mining Company [JSE:HAR], the chamber had proposed doing away with the lowest wage category, creating a new category for some employees and adjusting the pay of others.

At least one mining company has already taken action.

Gold One International [JSE:GDO] sacked 1400 workers last Tuesday. They had been on a week-long wildcat strike at its Ezulwini mine, on the West Rand.

Gold One spokesperson Grant Stuart said the employees, of a total workforce of about 1900, had undergone an appeal process on Monday. The outcome had not yet been announced.

Gold Fields suspended operations after its workers went on an illegal strike, the company said on Monday.

Spokesperson Willie Jacobsz said about 8500 of 12 400 workers at KDC East (formerly Kloof Gold Mine) downed tools on Sunday, at the start of the night-shift.

"The total number of employees now engaged in the unlawful strike at KDC East and KDC West is approximately 19 500 out of a total workforce of approximately 26 700."

He said production was suspended at the entire KDC.

Workers at KDC West (formerly Driefontein) went on a wildcat strike in September, demanding a R12 500 monthly salary.

Bokoni executive Joel Kesler said striking workers at the company's platinum mine, outside Burgersfort, in Limpopo, were intimidating fellow employees after being issued with an ultimatum to return to work.

Kesler estimated that 600 employees reported for work on Monday.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said employees were given until Monday to return to work.

"About 20% of them returned to work, but the other 80% refused to do so. They were the guys that confronted returning workers this morning [Monday]."

More than a week ago, more that 2000 striking Bokoni workers were fired for participating in the illegal strike. Formal dismissal notices were issued after a disciplinary hearing.

Most of the mine's 3500 permanent staff and 900 contractors downed tools nearly two weeks ago.

A strike by Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) workers was also continuing, despite threats of disciplinary action.

The Rustenburg Joint Strike Co-ordinating Committee said on Sunday it would not suspend its strike action.

"We are not going to be intimidated into submission. We are not going to participate in any form of disciplinary hearing," said spokesperson Mametlwe Sebei.

He said a disciplinary hearing was a threat aimed at forcing workers to abandon the strike.

"We will engage management on issues relating to our demand, which is a R16 000 salary [at Amplats mines]."

Sebei said he would visit other mines to push forward the demand of a basic salary of R12 500.

Kumba Iron Ore [JSE:KIO] has also been hit by an unprotected strike at its mine in the Northern Cape. The company said on Friday that talks to end the strike had been unsuccessful so far, and that workers had been told to attend a disciplinary hearing, or be fired, spokesperson Gert Schoeman said.

However, workers ignored the hearings on Monday.

"These [hearings] will now proceed in their absence and they may be dismissed," said Schoeman.

Operations at the mine were suspended earlier this month because of the wildcat strike.

About 300 miners on the night-shift stopped working and seized a fleet of heavy mining equipment worth R3.3bn, said Schoeman.

The workers were demanding a monthly salary increase of R15 000 for all Kumba employees, over and above what they already earned.

The mine has said it concluded a wage agreement two months ago and that while it would discuss safety conditions, it would not re-open wage negotiations.

Also last week, workers at Xstrata's mine in Brits, North West, joined the wave of illegal and unprotected strikes, according to the provincial branch of the Congress of SA Trade Unions.

Xstrata could not be reached on Monday for comment about the effect of the strike.
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