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S Africa mine owner extends strike deadline
Workers at mine where 34 strikers were killed in recent police shooting given extra 24 hours to end action or be fired.
Last Modified: 20 Aug 2012 23:16

Striking workers at the South Africa platinum mine where 44 people were killed in a week of violence have been given another 24 hours to return to work, while 259 arrested strikers have appeared in court for the first time.

"After consultations with various labour representatives today, the company [Lonmin] can also announce that those illegal strikers who did not return to work this morning will not be dismissed and have been allowed an extra day in light of current circumstances," said Lonmin mine in the statement on Monday.

Lonmin had initially ordered miners to return to work by Friday. After the shootings, the mine changed the deadline to Monday, Sue Vey, a company spokesperson, said. Strikers now have until 7am on Tuesday morning to report to work.

Lonmin said in the statement that almost one-third of the 28,000-strong workforce reported for their morning shifts, adhering to the company's initial deadline and allowing Lonmin, one of the world's largest primary producers of platinum, to resume partial operations.

"Expecting us to go back to work is like an insult  ... many of our friends and colleagues are dead"

- Striking miner

After a week of protests in which 10 people were killed, including two police officers who were hacked to death, 34 strikers at Lonmin's Marikana mine were shot down by police on Thursday.

The violence has been described by some analysts as one of the worst displays of state violence since apartheid ended in 1994. Police said they acted in self-defence.

Meanwhile, 259 miners arrested after the deadly police crackdown appeared in the Ga-Rankuwa court in Pretoria on Monday on charges ranging from murder to public violence. 

Magistrate Esau Bodigelo ruled that all the men should remain in custody, but an exact breakdown of all the charges was not immediately available local news reports stated.

Their next hearing was set for August 27.

Pay dispute

About 3,000 rock-drill operators, represented by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), downed their tools on August 10, demanding a 300 per cent pay rise.

Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa, reporting from Wonderkop in Johannesburg, said the larger National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the newer AMCU union are caught in a dispute over the action and cannot agree on a way forward.

Some strikers said on Monday that they were not sure what to do. 

"Because we work as a majority, if the majority goes back to work tomorrow I'm going too," Vuyisile Mchiza, a miner, said.

But "if the majority is not going back to work tomorrow, I'm not going either because I won't be able to go to work while others are sitting grieving".

"Expecting us to go back to work is like an insult ... many of our friends and colleagues are dead,'' another miner, who did not want to be identified told the Associated Press.

Union rivalry

Mutasa said AMCU is refusing to return to work until their demands are met.

She said that a few of the miners left a group meeting on Monday and returned to a hill top saying that they will stay there until the demands are met, but left after police told them to vacate the area.

"They are threatening to return to the hill top and to camp out there until their demands are met," said our correspondent.

At a news conference held by Lonmin on Monday, Mutasa said the company's managers said that they would follow protocol.

She said that while the labour union negotiation process is complex, dealing with the NUM seems to be the right way that things should be done.

Mutasa said that AMCU has said that it is being sidelined and that Lonmin does not deal with them.

She said that they feel that they should be included in negotiations. AMCU members were not at the news conference with some saying they were not invited, said Mutasa.

However, AMCU allegedly has no bargaining rights since it has less than 30 per cent of membership at Lonmin and due to a two-year wage negotiation deal, according to local news reports. 

Quoting a NUM statement, the report said that Lonmin initially ignored an "existing collective agreement" by "unilaterally offering an allowance of between R250 - R750 [$30 - $90]  to rock-drill operators outside of the bargaining processes".

Safety concerns

Mutasa said safety remained a major concern for the mine workers who returned to work. Intimidation and threats of violence reportedly kept many more away.

"The safety and security of our employees is paramount and nobody will be asked to report for duty if the police consider them in danger of reprisals," Simon Scott, acting chief executive officer of Lonmin, said in a statement.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Scott said: "From a public order perspective the South African Police Services present in the area is still significant."

"One of the ways that people see of order being restored is to get work continuing."

Mutasa said that while the police have given these miners their assurance that they will provide protection for them, tensions remained high. 

"Mine workers are afraid, they are also afraid to speak to journalists for fear of who will see them," said Mutasa. 

Last year, after a similar dispute over labour representation stopped work at its nearby Karee mine, where all 9,000 workers were fired. The company asked them to reapply for their jobs and most were rehired.

It was unclear if Lonmin would carry out the same response in this case.

"If the environment is such that it is peaceful, and that they should report for their shift, then they should report for their shift," said Scott.

"If the environment isn't like that ... then obviously we will take those sorts of circumstances into account."

Various political parties also visited the site of the Lonmin shooting on Monday ahead of a parliamentary debate on the incident on Tuesday to discuss the body's reaction to the deaths.

President Jacob Zuma declared a week of national mourning starting on Monday to commemorate the lives of all South Africans who have died violently, especially the 44 at the Marikana mine.

He has also commissioned an inquiry into what happened on Thursday.

1047

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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