South African miner Gold Fields has sacked over 8000 of striking workers after they refused to return to work at the KDC East mine near the city of Johannesburg, a spokesman says.
“All 8,500 people who were on strike did not come back. They did not return to work, so we have issued dismissal letters to all of them,” spokesman Sven Lunsche announced on Tuesday.
“We have now reached a stage where we can’t hold off anymore. Our hands were forced and we have now done it.”
Lunsche further stated that the workers have 24 hours to appeal their dismissal.
Workers at the last striking mine of the world’s fourth gold producer in Carletonville, southwest of Johannesburg, ignored a final deadline set for 4:00 pm (14:00 GMT).
Tens of thousands working in South African mines –mostly located near the commercial hub of Johannesburg– have been on strike for more than a month.
The strikes have paralyzed production in the country, which accounts for around seven percent of global mine products.
In August, clashes between striking miners and police left 46 miners dead at Lonmin platinum mine in the South African North West Province.
The strikes have damaged South Africa’s reputation as an investment destination.
South Africa possesses nearly 80 percent of the world’s known platinum reserves. The country’s mining sector directly employs around 500,000 people and accounts for nearly one-fifth of the country’s gross domestic product.
Up to 12,000 employees of Anglo American Platinum received messages Friday saying they were fired. The mining powerhouse dismissed the workers after a three-week strike. The labor stand-off has already taken 48 lives across South Africa since August.
The news was broken to the employees via SMS and emails.
Commenting on the move, Amplats declared miners had failed to appear before disciplinary hearings “and have therefore been dismissed in their absence.” The miners had been warned that would happen if they failed to turn up, the company said.
The world’s largest platinum producer says its lost over $80 million in revenues since a major strike gripped their mines in mid-September, involving at least 20,000 miners.
“Despite the company’s repeated calls for employees to return to work, we have continued to experience attendance levels of less than 20 percent,” the firm said in a statement quoted by Agence France Presse.
Strike leader Gaddafi Mdoda was one of the those fired on Friday. He says that even if Amplats no longer employs them, this is no reason to end the struggle. The mineworkers are demanding 12,500 rand (about $1,500) in take-home salary, their current wages are reported to be around $500.
Amplats says they still continue “exploring the possibility of bringing forward wage negotiations within our current agreements”.
The sackings came hours before another striking miner was mortally wounded in clashes with police, bringing the total number of protesters killed since strikes began in August, to 48. Police would not confirm the cause of death, but protesters say he was shot with a rubber bullet.
The strikes peaked at over 75,000 participants, or 15 percent of workforce in the mining sector. Clashes with police often turned violent, involving tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon. In a single day thirty-four strikers were killed by police at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine, on August 16.
Despite the growing tensions, negotiations with mine owners don’t appear to be yielding any substantial results. A rare breakthrough was reached at the Lonmin platinum mines, where the worst violence broke out, with salaries being boosted 22 per cent. But on Thursday, South Africa’s Chamber of Mines, the main industry body, said wage talks will not be based on that precedent. This may force coal miners to join platinum, gold, iron ore and diamond miners in further work stoppages.
Mineworkers of Lonmin platinum mine have ended their five-week strike and returned to work after the company increased their salaries, South African media says.
The Lonmin strike was marked by violent clashes in August, where police forces killed 34 striking miners at the platinum mine which is reportedly the world’s third-largest platinum producer with approximately 28,000 employees. In all, 45 people have died in violence related to the unrest.
“The end of the Lonmin strike is something we should all cheer, but how the dispute has been settled may provide a template for workers to use elsewhere. That’s the contagion threat,” wrote a columnist for Business Day (South Africa) on Wednesday.
Meanwhile,South African mining strikes spread to the chrome sector, after miners in gold and platinum mines halted work across the country.
Reports on Monday said that some miners at Samancor chrome mine located near Mooinooi, northwest of Johannesburg stopped work, demanding a minimum pay of 12,500 rand ($1,560).
According to an article published in Business Daily on Tuesday, “What started as a wage dispute… has morphed into something much bigger, posing a number of questions about the future of the mining industry and SA as an investment case… Workers at other mines may be encouraged to adopt the same tactics as the Lonmin workers, especially as they managed to winkle out extra pay from a struggling company.”
The Star newspaper also reported “this [end of the Lonmin strike] could be bad news for the biggest miners’ union in the country, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM)…. There is a strong feeling that NUM members will decamp and move to join the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), the NUM’s new rival.”
Earlier on September 10, some 15,000 mine workers staged a demonstration at Gold Fields mine to voice their anger over pay and working conditions, after four people injured in a shooting at the same mine.
South Africa is home to nearly 80 percent of the world’s known platinum reserves. Mining accounts for about 20 percent of the country’s national output.
- S.Africa Lonmin miners end strike, accept 22% pay raise (capitalfm.co.ke)