Lonmin hopeful more workers will return to work

2286562 INLSA One of the shafts of the Lonmin mine at Wonderkop, Marikana, where workers have been striking. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

 

After a promising weekend turnout of workers at its platinum mines, Lonmin expressed hopes more will clock in on Monday as talks resume after violence that claimed 44 lives.

Lonmin said it expects the bulk of its 28 000 workers to report for duty while it tries to work out a deal with the 3 000 rock drill operators who launched a wildcat strike more than two weeks ago.

The world's number three platinum producer said 57 percent of workers had reported for duty on Saturday at one of its two sets of shafts.

“We are quite upbeat. We are hopeful we will get more workers tomorrow,” said spokeswoman Sue Vey.

The government and religious leaders have been mediating in talks between unions and Lonmin management.

Operations at Lonmin mines have ground to a halt since August 10 when the rock drill operators started a vigil on a hill, demanding a 300-percent pay rise.

The strike degenerated into violent clashes between workers of rival unions, leading to the deaths of 10 people, including two policemen.

Police then brutally put down the protest, shooting dead 34 strikers, the nation's deadliest police action since apartheid.

An official mourning period for those killed declared by President Jacob Zuma drew to an end at the weekend.

Zuma thanked the country for responding “with dignity, calm and fortitude in the midst of pain, shock and disappointment” at the Marikana mine killings.

“The tragedies must unite us all behind a resolve to end violence of all forms in our society,” he said in a statement on Sunday.

Production at the mines has not yet resumed, with Lonmin saying mining operations would restart once it has secured “sufficient numbers” of workers and safety has been ensured.

“No production is happening. Yesterday's shift was all about making the place safe, cleaning and briefings,” she said.

The company will likely try to meet its annual production target of 750 000 ounces.

Lonmin spent the weekend persuading the workers to return to the job.

Religious leaders said a fresh round of talks was lined up for Monday.

“They had agreed that on Monday they will resume talks on wages, but management raised the issue of peace and an environment conducive to work,” Bishop Jo Seoka of the South African Council of Churches said.

On Wednesday talks mediated by the government and involving the two feuding unions - the main National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and its breakaway, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) - are set to re-open.

Eric Gcilitshana, NUM's health and safety secretary, who is involved in the talks, said all unions including the AMCU had agreed to be part of the discussions on an accord.

He also expected that more workers would show up on Monday, taking a cue from mates who have gone to work and returned home unharmed by the strikers.

Workers are demanding a wage increase to R12 500 a month, claiming they currently earn only R4 000.

Once that demand is granted, “maybe Tuesday we will go back” to work, one of the workers' representatives in the talks facilitated by the church, Kunene Msindiseni, said by phone from Marikana.

Lonmin says that, when bonuses and other allowances are included, the rock drill operators earn an average of R9 813 rand before taxes.

Meantime, the 260 workers arrested following the police crackdown at Lonmin's Marikana mine are due to appear in court on Monday facing a litany of charges ranging from murder to public violence.

The accused come from across southern Africa, lured to South Africa by the prospect of work in the country's rich mines, home to more than 80 percent of the world's platinum deposits.

During their initial appearance last week, proceedings had to be translated into five languages. - Sapa-AFP



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