South African mines boot thousands of striking workers

Wednesday, October 10, 2012    

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — CLOSE to 3,600 strikers were sacked at South African mines yesterday in the latest wave of mass layoffs to rock Africa's largest economy.

Two mining firms said they had fired the workers for taking part in illegal work stoppages.

Platinum miner Atlatsa said 2,161 miners had been given until the end of business on Wednesday to appeal their dismissal.

Meanwhile, Gold One sacked 1,435 people — more than 75 per cent of its workforce — at a gold and uranium mine near Johannesburg

Both wildcat strikes have run since October 1.

Last week, mining powerhouse Anglo American announced it had sacked 12,000 workers at its platinum mine in Rustenburg in the north of the country.

Amid rising anger at South Africa's failure to tackle vast income gaps that plague the country, 18 years after the end of Apartheid, scores of miners, truckers and other workers have downed tools unilaterally, demanding higher pay.

While a handful of mine owners have acquiesced to demands for higher pay and better working and living conditions, others have taken a tougher line.

On Tuesday Gold One — a mid-sized mining group partially owned by the China-Africa Development Fund —said the workers had until Thursday to appeal their dismissal.

"Dismissed employees have been informed of their right to appeal their dismissal," it said.

"The South African Police Service is maintaining a strong presence at the operation to ensure that there are no acts of intimidation or violence. Currently only essential services are continuing."

While mass sackings have been used in the past in South Africa as a means of gaining negotiating leverage, after months of sometimes deadly labour unrest, that could prove a risky gambit today.

Over 50 people are thought to have died since the start of August in strike-related violence, which threatens to derail South Africa's already weak economic growth.

The latest death occurred Monday when assistant truck driver Gary Stewart died in a Cape Town hospital after he was hit in the back of the head last week by a stone, hurled allegedly by striking truckers.

The 41-year-old's life support machines were switched off after doctors declared him brain-dead.

In its third week, the truckers' strike has restricted supplies of petrol and cash to ATM machines, and looks set to continue after talks broke down on Tuesday amid mutual recriminations between firms and unions.






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