In South Africa 75,000 Striking Miners Remain Defiant

South African miners on a wildcat strike against the world’s top platinum producer defied management threats of firings on Friday 28 September 2012.

Anglo American Platinum, Amplats, is the world’s leading platinum producer. Amplats is a division of global mining firm Anglo American.

Miners in a passage deep inside a South African mine.

Miners in a passage deep inside a South African mine. Still from a documentary produced for the Provident Fund of the National Union of Mine Workers of South Africa to highlight the plight of mine worker widows after the deaths of their husbands in South African mines. Click to view the documentary.

Amplats announced Thursday, 27 September 2012, that it began disciplinary actions and will fire the strikers. Amplats said it is sending text messages ordering employees to return to work.

Amplats is telling workers to attend a hearing on Tuesday, 2 October 2012, to argue why they should not be fired for taking part in an illegal strike, according to a text message seen by Reuters.

“Should you not make any representations, a decision will be made in your absence,” the message reportedly says.

The strikes closed four Amplats mines located in Rustenburg, South Africa, for more than two weeks. The mines produce a quarter Amplats’ platinum output.

The strike has reportedly cost Amplats at least 20,000 ounces in lost production, valued about US$33 million at current prices.

Striking Miners Remain Defiant

Reuters reports that the striking Amplats miners living in shantytowns near the mine are prepared to stand their ground.

“Management is sending us SMSs telling us that they will fire us, but they are lying. Too much depends on these mines,” Siphamandla Malchanya, a machine operator with four children, told Reuters.

“I’m not educated, my father was not educated, but my kids must be educated,” Malchanya told Reuters. “They must not face the same problems I’m facing. We are prepared to die for this situation. We will not go underground unless they put an offer on the table.”

A wave of mine strikes is roiling Africa’s largest business.

The end of a deadly six-week strike, in which 46 people were killed, against platinum producer, Lonmin, ended with miners winning raises of 22%.

Police approach fallen bodies at Marikuna platinum mine in South Africa on 16 August 2012

Police approach fallen bodies at Marikuna platinum mine in South Africa on 16 August 2012

Police killed 34 Lonmin strikers on 16 August 2012 – the bloodiest security incident since the end of apartheid in 1994 – also put pressure on South African President Jacob Zuma to call in the army to back up stretched police. Several more people are killed in the following days.

The Lonmin wage settlement spilled over into the South Africa’s gold mines, which were already restive.

However, worker’s 20 September 2012 victory at the Lonmin mines caused gold miners to walk of the job and led to the Amplats strike.

The unrest has roots in a bloody turf war between an upstart union and the dominant National Union of Mineworkers. Pay at many of the mines has not increased in nearly 20 years, leading to rising tensions among the miners many of who live in shantytowns.

In January 2012, a wildcat strike at Implats’ Rustenburg operation brought work at the world’s largest platinum mine to a halt for six weeks. That strike as an outgrowth of union turf war between the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, AMCU, and the dominant National Union of Mineworkers, NUM.

Mines run by AngloGold Ashanti and Gold Fields, the world’s third- and fourth-biggest gold bullion producers, have been shit down by strikes.

The AngloGold Ashanti mine, which about has 5,000 workers, went on strike Friday, 21 September 2012. A mineworker’s union spokesman said the strikers wanted 12,500 rand ($1,500) a month.

That demand is similar to demands at other mines. It is about triple the current basic low-end of the wage scale for South African mine workers.

South Africa - Typical mine site in the platinum producing region.

South Africa – Typical mine site in the platinum producing region.

The AngloGold strike came one day after workers went back to work at Lonmin.

The ripples from the Lonmin settlement continue as gold producer Village Main Reef said 1,700 workers at its Blyvoor mine walked off the job Friday, 28 September.

Close to 75,000 workers are on strike or are being prevented from going to work in South African mines, according to published reports.

About 15,000 miners at the KDC West operation of Gold Fields, the world’s fourth largest bullion producer, have been on strike.

The Gold Fields protest is fueled in part with dissatisfaction with the local leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers.

The west section of Gold Fields’ KDC Gold Mine, located southwest of Johannesburg, employs about 15,000 miners. It has been shut since 10 September 2012 in a strike over wages. The miners are also demanding removal of the local NUM leadership.

Gold Fields, which is listed on the Johannesburg and New York stock exchanges, produces 3.5 million ounces of gold annually, according to its website. The company operates eight mines in Australia, Ghana, Peru and South Africa.

Gold Fields has said it would not give in to demands for a minimum wage of 12,500 rand (about US$1,500) despite losing production of 1,400 ounces a day – close to 15% of its total output.

NUM General Secretary Frans Baleni said the union, a key political ally of the ruling African National Congress, was trying to help. The stand off threatens the NUM-dominated collective wage bargaining typical of South Africa’s post- apartheid industrial relations.

South Africa’s biggest union group has acknowledged the challenge posed by the rise of the militant AMCU union.

“The labor movement needs to renew itself,” said Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, COSATU.

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