Lonmin Says Safety Under Control as Mines Open Second DayAndre Janse van Vuuren
Lonmin Plc has seen more employees returning to its mines today as the main union in South Africa’s platinum industry said its members remain “steadfast” after 16 weeks without working.
The third-largest producer of the metal yesterday started preparing to resume mining in a bid to break a strike that has crippled output in the country responsible for two-thirds of world production. The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union earlier this month rejected a settlement proposal by Anglo American Platinum Ltd., Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. and Lonmin after calling a strike on Jan. 23.
“We expect workers will assess their own safety and assess their own confidence,” Happy Nkhoma, a company spokesman, said today by phone after police beefed up security amid allegations of intimidation. Lonmin, which had higher attendance today than yesterday, may consider asking a court to declare the strike unlawful should violence persist, he said.
Employees aren’t giving up on their demands, AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa said by phone. He said this was the opinion of 5,000 striking workers who attended a rally the union held near Lonmin’s Marikana mines, where 34 protesters were killed less than two years ago by police in a single day.
“It shows the workers know what they want,” Mathunjwa said. “If you look at the rally, it is quite clear that they’re steadfast.” Mathunjwa will again speak to striking workers at Amplats, as the world’s biggest producer is known, and Impala, the second-largest, he said.
The National Union of Mineworkers, which isn’t on strike, advised its members not to go to work today due to the threat of violence, General Secretary Frans Baleni said on eNCA news channel.
Residents living around Lonmin operations received threats from people who went door-to-door last night, NUM Regional Secretary Sydwell Dokolwana said by phone. “If we see you in the street, you must report to us and tell us where you’re going,” Dokolwana said of the intimidation.
Police received no reports of serious violence during the night or today, Thulani Ngubane, a provincial spokesman for the service, said by phone. Four people have died in violent attacks in South Africa’s platinum belt over the past week.
The AMCU wants basic monthly pay, without benefits, to be more than doubled for entry-level underground employees to 12,500 rand ($1,213) by 2017, while producers are including cash allowances in that figure.
Police have increased security in the area and will crack down on perpetrators of intimidation and violence, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said on eNCA yesterday.
Attendance at affected Amplats operations is slowly increasing, Mpumi Sithole, a spokeswoman for the world’s largest platinum producer, said yesterday. Lonmin’s Nkhoma declined to details of number of workers that have returned.
No further incidents of violence took place near the mines of Impala Platinum, the second-largest producer, after cars at the company’s No. 9 shaft were set alight yesterday, spokesman Johan Theron said by phone. Impala has extended leave for non-striking workers until May 25 as its mines remain closed, Theron said.
The three companies have lost 17.9 billion rand in revenue because of the stoppage while employees have forfeited 8 billion rand in wages, according to a website set up by the producers.
A South African labor court will hear the AMCU’s application to stop employers from communicating directly with employees on May 20, Charmane Russell, a spokeswoman for the three producers at Russell & Associates, said by e-mail. The companies polled workers by text message and voice mail on whether they wanted return to work after the AMCU rejected the producers’ settlement offer earlier this month.
Lonmin temporarily stopped sending text messages to workers to review the risks associated with the system, the company’s Nkhoma said.
Stoppages that are protected by South African law, as AMCU’s is, mean that miners taking part can’t be fired. Should Lonmin have a labor court declare the strike unlawful, it would enable the company to compel workers to return or face dismissal.