JOHANNESBURG – New labor unrest has hit South Africa's mining industry, with 15,000 workers going on strike at a mine near Johannesburg.
Mining firm Gold Fields Limited says the strike, which began Sunday, has suspended all production at its KDC West gold mine. The company says the reason for the strike is unclear, but its leaders are talking with workers and various unions in hopes of ending the strike quickly.
The new unrest comes as platinum giant Lonmin begins talks with South African unions on Monday, as its striking workers faced a deadline to return to their jobs.
Lonmin officials expressed hope the workers would report, but attendance figures remained low. Spokeswoman Sue Vey said she was hopeful as the company prepared to negotiate with unions and workers to end an illegal strike that has immobilized a platinum mine and shaken world markets.
A peace accord signed by Lonmin and unions last week stipulated that workers return to work by Monday, but Vey said only 6.34 percent of workers have reported for work, a slight improvement upon recent attendance figures that hovered around 5 percent.
“We are positive that it’s going to go well," she said, explaining that the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, will lead discussions. "We have the CCMA facilitating today, and we have all parties having been invited. And for all intents and purposes, everyone who needs to be here is here.”
Workers at Lonmin's Marikana mine launched a wildcat strike in August after union negotiations broke down. On August 16, strikers clashed with police at the mine some 100 kilometers from Johannesburg, leading police to shoot dead 34 demonstrators.
The government has ordered an investigation into the matter.
The workers are demanding their pay be tripled to about $1,500 a month. Meanwhile, their absence from work has seriously affected the platinum market and Lonmin’s productivity.
About 1,000 striking workers gathered near the Marikana mine Monday morning, according to news reports, but no incidents were reported.
One union, the breakaway Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, has declined to sign the peace accord. Union leader Joseph Mathunjwa has said the union is instead holding out for Lonmin to make an offer toward workers' salary demand.
But a powerful rival union, the established National Union of Mineworkers, has repeatedly said that this demand is ambitious, while Lonmin says that level of pay is unsustainable.