7 October 2012

South Africa: Strikes About More Than Wages - NGO

Photo: Werner Beukes/SAPA
File photo: Striking mineworkers carrying knobkerries, sharpened sticks and iron rods. A round of talks between the platinum industry and unions was expected to continue this week to resolve the widespread strike action in the country.

Johannesburg — Unprotected strikes in the mining industry were about more than just wages, the Bench Mark Foundation said on Sunday.

"The fact that so many miners are striking all over South Africa, indicates the level of unhappiness and unease within the sector," executive director John Capel said in a statement.

"Contrary to what is being reported, it is not purely about wages, but about the totality of people's lives where they definitely do not feel respected and live under conditions that do not give them dignity."

He said mining companies needed to stop being evasive about conditions in their mines and the surrounding communities.

Bench Marks Foundation was launched by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2001, to monitor the practices of multi-national corporations on behalf of churches.

Meanwhile, Petra Kimberley Diamond Mine and Anglo Gold Ashanti were waiting to see whether striking workers would return to work.

Petra spokesman Gert Klopper said operations were expected to normalise with the night shift on Sunday after an agreement was reached on Friday.

He said the contents of the agreement would not be disclosed to the media as "we regard those as internal matters".

Workers at Petra's Kimberley mine embarked on an underground sit-in on Tuesday, which halted operations.

Workers at the company's mine near Koffiefontein, in the southern Free State, also joined the strike, but Friday's agreement covered all Petra mines.

There was also no clear indication of whether striking mineworkers at Anglo Gold Ashanti's Mponeng mine would return to work as requested, spokesman Alan Fine said.

"We will only be able to see when the night shift is scheduled to start work," spokesman Alan Fine said.

During a meeting at the mine, outside Fochville in the North West, on Friday, the company distributed pamphlets, urging workers to end their unprotected strike.

In the pamphlet, Mponeng general manager Randel Fadermann appealed to miners return to work.

"As we are approaching a new week, I urge you all to report to your place of work on Monday, [so] we can start working towards a safe and sustainable future together."

Workers downed tools on September 25, demanding monthly salaries of R18,500.

At Kumba Iron Ore's Sishen mine about 300 wildcat strikers continued with a sit-in, demanding an increase of R15,000 for all staff, spokesman Gert Schoeman said.

Kumba suspended production at Sishen Mine on Thursday due to the strikers blocking access to the pit, creating an unsafe environment for mining operations.

"It is all about safety. At the moment our priority is to normalise the situation and we need them to leave the mine. We also can't start blasting and drilling when they are moving about inside -- that is not safe," Schoeman said.

Gold One and Gold Fields remained quiet on Sunday.

Gold One spokesman Grant Stuart said there had been no violence over the weekend, after the suspension of around 1400 striking workers.

The company initially intended holding disciplinary hearings over participation in the unprotected strike on Friday, but postponed the hearings to Monday at the request of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

Gold Fields spokesman Sven Lunsche said all the company's mines were quiet.

"The night shift starts at 9pm but we don't expect workers to show up.

We are also not sure if they will return to the hostels."

Workers embarked on an illegal strike last month at the Gold Fields KDC West mine in Carletonville and Beatrix mines, demanding a monthly pay of R12,500 after deductions.

Platinum bosses and unions will meet at the Chamber of Mines on Monday for negotiations. The appeals for 12,000 workers fired from Anglo American Platinum for participating in the unprotected strike, were postponed to Wednesday.

NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said on Saturday that the union had not yet made a decision on whether to appeal on its members' behalf.

First, it wanted to see what the outcome of the Chamber of mines meeting would be.

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