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Militant South Africa union tells Lonmin to pay up

Employees will ignore Monday's deadline to restart work until mine operator meets their pay demands, says union leader

Reuters, Saturday 8 Sep 2012
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Striking workers at Lonmin's South African platinum mines where 44 died last month in labour strife will stay off the job until their demands for hefty pay hikes are met, a union leader said on Friday.

Workers are facing a Monday deadline to return to the Lonmin Plc mines paralysed by a four-week strike that has sent company shares plummeting, raised world platinum prices and stoked worries of labour unrest spreading through the mining sector of Africa's largest economy.
 
"When the employer is prepared to make an offer on the table, we shall make ourselves available," Joseph Mathunjwa, president at the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), told a news conference.
 
On Friday, Lonmin said 2 per cent of shift workers reported to their posts. Miners have said they have been threatened by striking miners with death if they go back into the shafts.
 
The strike was sparked by a turf war between the established National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and AMCU at the Marikana mine and has led to about 3,000 -- mostly rock drill operators -- of Lonmin's 28,000-strong South Africa workforce to walk out.
 
Strikers are demanding a monthly base pay of 12,500 rand, which is double current wages and an amount analysts said the financially strapped company cannot afford.
 
Marikana accounts for the majority of the platinum output of Lonmin, which itself accounts for 12 per cent of global supply of the precious metal used in jewellery and vehicles' catalytic converters.
 
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan told reporters on Thursday he did not think the labour stand-off would affect growth in "any significant way", and reassured investors worried about the worst security incident since the end of apartheid in 1994.
 
"South Africa is still hard at work and most of it is highly productive and that it is still available for investment opportunities as well," he said.
 
Lonmin shares, which had lost 25 per cent of their value since 16 August, have been on the rise since NUM and other unions signed a peace accord with Lonmin on Thursday to open up a path to a settlement, despite AMCU's holding out.
 
The violent rise of AMCU is also the most serious challenge to the unwritten pact at the heart of the post-apartheid settlement -- that unions aligned to the ruling ANC deliver modestly higher wages for workers, while ensuring labour stability for big business.
 
AMCU says it represents about 7,000 workers at the Lonmin operations. It has been around for more than a decade but has only made itself a force in the labour market in the last year or so.
 
It and other upstart unions have been drilling into a growing seam of discontent and poaching NUM members or picking up the unorganised at Lonmin, Aquarius and at the world's largest platinum mine run by Impala Platinum, which shut for 6 weeks early this year amid labour blood-letting.
 
President Jacob Zuma cut short a foreign visit in the immediate aftermath of the Marikana shootings, but his wooden performance and heavily staged-managed meetings with victims and miners has damaged his "man of the people" image.
 
He has ordered a government panel to look into the responsibility of the feuding unions, Lonmin and police for violence that included 34 miners being shot dead by police on Aug 16 in what has been dubbed the "Marikana Massacre."
 
A survivor of last month's police killing said officers shot fleeing and surrendering men beyond the eyes of the media.
 
Striking miners have said the NUM has paid far too much attention to keeping close ties with the ANC, at the expense of workers in the shafts.
 
Analysts have said the conflict has laid bare the problem of income disparity that has grown worse since the ANC took over and is now among the highest in the world. While mining wages have gone up, miners are often the sole bread winners for extended families mired in chronic poverty.
 
But the ANC, along with its governing alliance partners labour federation COSATU and the Communist Party, said mining companies are clearly to blame.
 
"It is therefore our considered view that employers have an interest in fanning this conflict to reverse the gains achieved by workers over a long period of time," they said in a statement.
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