Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant

Cape Town - Striking workers at the Lonmin mine in Marikana must return to work so negotiations can continue, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant said on Tuesday.

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) was still on site and essentially playing a waiting game as the majority of workers refused to return to their posts, Oliphant told reporters in Parliament.

“The peace accord that was signed is clearly set. Workers must go back to work and then the negotiation process will start.... Unfortunately, the workers and their representatives still have not pitched for talks,” she said.

Oliphant bemoaned the fact that workers, who had not been paid since the wildcat strike started over a month ago, were not taking the decisions themselves.

“They are being led by people who have the means to support themselves, “ said Oliphant.

She said there were indications that those who formed part of protests were not only striking workers, but unemployed people as well.

“The issue here is if (the) company decides to close shop, then when they decide to re-open, they won't be forced to employ the same workers.

“You'll find the very same people encouraging these workers not to go back to work, they will be on the front lines to look for jobs.”

Oliphant said workers needed to rethink their position and make a decision, as it was having serious repercussions.

“The challenge now is no longer just the issue of rock drillers wanting R12 500. Everybody is now saying he or she wants R12 500.”

Oliphant said the government could not force Lonmin to decide to halt operations if production continued to fall.

“It would be unfortunate. It would mean, automatically, people will be dismissed. Again, we are encouraging those workers to go back to work and that's why we've intervened as the department of labour.”

The department was in talks with the platinum and gold mining industry, to look at how issues could be identified before the situation got out of hand.

“It can be platinum today, tomorrow it can be the gold industry. We are encouraging them 1/8gold and platinum mine bosses 3/8 to reconsider central bargaining so that at the end of the day nobody refers to another mining company to say those workers are getting better salaries and these are not getting better salaries.”

Asked whether Lonmin bosses should cave in to the workers demands, Oliphant said this was not for the government to decide.

Oliphant said it was also not for her to comment on whether the demand for a R12 500 salary was realistic.

“I can't respond because I haven't seen their payslips.”

However, she did say that workers did not include their benefits, such as living allowances, when they claimed to earn low wages. - Sapa