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South African Mine Clash Hurts Seven as Rubber Bullets Fired

May 21 (Bloomberg) -- Seven people were injured in clashes between workers and security personnel at Lanxess AG’s chrome unit in South Africa today amid a wildcat strike over pay.

Security guards shot at employees with rubber bullets, hitting two, Sibonile Dube, a Johannesburg-based spokeswoman for the company, said in an e-mail. Two guards were hit by stones thrown by the workers who have been on an illegal stoppage since May 16, she said. Three other employees were hurt.

“Our security guards were acting in self-defense as the strikers started throwing stones at them,” Dube said.

Mining companies in South Africa, which has the world’s biggest known reserves of chrome and platinum, are bracing for wage talks, with one union demanding increases of as much as 61 percent. The local chrome operation of Lanxess, a Leverkusen, Germany-based synthetic rubber maker and chemicals company, is in Rustenburg, where platinum producers are contending with union rivalry and where at least 46 people were killed in unrest last year.

“The present uncertainty in the labor relations environment in mining and other sectors requires concerted action by organized labor, business leaders and civic leaders and government,” Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan told lawmakers in Cape Town today. “If we do not resolve our labor relations challenges, we will be losers. We will see deteriorating confidence, job losses and business failures.”

About 470 workers at Lanxess’s local unit started an unauthorized strike last week, demanding annual performance-related payments in addition to an existing wage agreement. Production at the chrome operation, where 750 people work, has been halted, Dube said in a separate e-mail.

Employees in South Africa may strike legally, with their jobs protected, if an independent mediator agrees to a stoppage and after talks between unions and companies fail.

Lanxess shares climbed for a third day, adding 1.2 percent to 58.07 euros by the close in Frankfurt.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Burkhardt in Johannesburg at pburkhardt@bloomberg.net

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

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