Lonmin weighs options to end strike

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BR Lonmin 6955 Independent Newspapers. Lonmin chief executive Ben Magara. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi.

Johannesburg - Lonmin will “examine all legal options” to break a 17-week strike that’s crippled most South African operations of the world’s three biggest platinum producers, chief executive Ben Magara said.

“We can and will continue, but no one can afford for this strike to continue,” Magara told reporters in Johannesburg today.

More than 70,000 members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union have been on strike since January 23, demanding that wages be more than doubled for entry-level workers by 2017.

The stoppage has cost Lonmin, Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum 18.8 billion rand in lost revenue and workers 8.3 billion rand in wages.

Stoppages that are protected by South African law, as the Amcu’s is, mean that miners taking part can’t be fired.

A change to the nation’s Labour Relations Act, which would have enabled producers to ask a court to declare the strike unlawful and compel workers to return or face dismissal, was removed by a parliamentary committee in February, Business Day reported.

Without the provision, it will be difficult to enable this, the Johannesburg-based newspaper said on May 16, citing University of Cape Town law professor Halton Cheadle.

The Amcu has asked South Africa’s labour court to prevent employers from communicating directly with workers through text messages about the wage offer after the union rejected their last proposal earlier this month, the producers said in a joint statement on May 14.

The matter will be heard tomorrow.

 

No Contravention

 

Lonmin’s decision to interact with its employees directly is “in no way a contravention” of the country’s labour laws, Magara said.

The Amcu wants basic monthly pay, without benefits, to be more than doubled for entry-level underground employees to 12,500 rand by 2017.

The union’s demand would equate to a 30 percent increase in the first year of the agreement, which the companies say is unaffordable.

They’re offering raises of as much as 10 percent annually.

South African police said they know who killed four people last week in the nation’s platinum belt.

“We know who we are looking for,” Thulani Ngubane, spokesman for South African Police Service in North West province, said by phone today.

“The investigation is still in progress. Arrest is not an overnight thing.”

 

Worker Deaths

 

A male worker at Lonmin’s Saffy shaft died from stab wounds and a contractor burnt to death last week, police said.

A man and woman were found dead at their home on May 11, they said.

The names of the three men appeared on a list, allegedly compiled by Lonmin employees, that detailed miners who agreed to return to work and that was being used as a “hit list,” City Press newspaper reported yesterday, citing part of the record it had seen.

Minority unions and companies operating in the Rustenburg area in South Africa, which has the world’s biggest platinum reserves, have reported violence and intimidation throughout the strike.

“We do not believe such a list could have come from Lonmin or that it’s linked to the SMS campaign,” Happy Nkhoma, a spokesman for the no. 3 platinum producer, said by phone today.

SMS is a local term for text message.

“We have not seen the list. The SMSs are not linked to union affiliation. We believe it’s a tactic to instill further fear in our employees.”

 

Griffith Apology

 

The situation at Lonmin’s mines today is calm, Nkhoma said.

Anglo Platinum chief executive Chris Griffith on May 16 apologised for comments he made to Johannesburg-based newspaper Business Day relating to his pay and a bonus plan in which 12 managers and directors at the top producer stand to earn as much as 25.3 million rand in the next three years if they meet targets.

“Must I run this company and deal with all this nonsense for nothing,” Griffith said, according to Business Day’s May 14 edition.

“I’m at work. I am not on strike. I am not demanding to be paid what I am not worth.”

In his May 16 letter, Griffith said his choice of words was “inappropriate and a poor way to describe the extremely challenging situation we find ourselves in.

Further, the seemingly insensitive timing of bonus-scheme announcements has been determined by JSE reporting regulations coinciding with the prolonged strike.”

Anglo Platinum is seeing an increasing number of employees returning to work, Mpumi Sithole, a spokeswoman for the company, said by e-mail, without disclosing attendance figures. - Bloomberg News



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