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South African Truckers Swell Strikers in Country to 100,000

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Striking Miners March In Marikana
Miners have been emboldened to bypass union-led talks and make pay demands directly to management after Lonmin Plc last week awarded platinum workers a record increase of as much as 22 percent. Photographer: Alexander Joe/AFP/GettyImages

Sept. 27 (Bloomberg) -- South African truckers swelled the ranks of workers on strike to almost 100,000, escalating a conflict with mine owners and police that has shut 39 percent of the nation’s gold production and led to 46 deaths.

“This truck drivers’ protest has been accompanied by serious provocations, intimidations, public violence and even elements of criminality,” Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said today in a statement. Workers must refrain from intimidating and assaulting those still working, or destroying property, he said.

Security forces yesterday fired rubber bullets at strikers at a factory in Howick, National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa Regional Secretary Mbuso Ngubane said today by mobile phone. About 20,000 transportation industry workers are on strike, the South African Press Association reported today.

Wildcat strikes have spread as workers sidelined traditional representatives for negotiating with management including the National Union of Mineworkers, a backer of the governing political party. Julius Malema, expelled by the ruling African National Congress, has called for workers to disrupt mines and the state to take over the operations.

The call to make mines ungovernable by Malema could be considered economic sabotage, the NUM’s Secretary General Frans Baleni said Sept. 4. Malema canceled a plan to address workers today at Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd.’s Rustenburg operation.

Fresh Demands

Impala faces fresh demands from workers after agreeing to higher salaries to end a strike during January and February. The company said today in a statement that a pay review will add 4.8 percent to its wage bill starting next month.

A six-week walkout at Lonmin Plc’s Marikana mine erupted into violence, with 46 killed including 34 shot by police. The miners won wage gains of as much as 22 percent, more than four times the August inflation rate. Miners have also struck at all of AngloGold Ashanti Ltd.’s mines in South Africa, which has the world’s largest platinum, chrome and manganese reserves.

AngloGold, the third-largest gold producer, employs more than 32,000 in South Africa, its 2011 annual report shows.

Gold Fields Ltd., the fourth largest producer of the metal, said most of the 15,000 employees at its KDC West site are on strike, along with 9,000 at its Beatrix mine. It said today there aren’t any talks scheduled with employees.

Gold prices have risen 9 percent since June 30 and are set for the biggest quarterly gain since the second quarter of 2010.

Anglo American

Strikes at Anglo American Platinum Ltd., the largest producer of the metal, may lead to job losses after at least 21,000 staff halted work without following required dispute resolution procedures, Chief Executive Officer Chris Griffith said yesterday in Rustenburg, northwest of Johannesburg.

The company began disciplinary action today that may lead to dismissals, the company said in an e-mailed statement.

Disruption may spread as mine workers demand “the Lonmin settlement,” David Davis, an analyst at SBG Securities Ltd., said in a note yesterday. Workers at Coal of Africa Ltd.’s Mooiplaats mine, employing about 370 people, have also downed tools.

Harmony Gold Mining Co., the nation’s third-largest producer, is unaffected by labor unrest, it said today in an e-mailed response to a query. Xstrata Plc’s South African alloys unit hasn’t received any demands, it also said today by e-mail. BHP Billiton Ltd. said labor relations at its operations in South Africa “are normal.”

South Africa’s mining industry employed 498,141 workers in 2010, according to figures on the Chamber of Mines’ website.

Moody’s Corp. downgraded South Africa’s bond rating by one step to Baa1 from A3 today, citing the “challenges posed by a negative investment climate” as well as “increased concerns about South Africa’s future political stability.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Carli Cooke in Johannesburg at clourens@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Viljoen at jviljoen@bloomberg.net

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