20 Aug 2012

Lonmin threatens striking SA miners with sack

Just over a quarter of miners have returned to work at the Lonmin platinum mine in South Africa following 44 deaths in violent clashes last week.

Protesting miners (Getty)

Lonmin, the London-based mining company, told around 3,000 striking workers that they would face losing there jobs if they did not return to work at the mine in Marikana, 60 miles north west of Johannesburg.

Lonmin halted operations at the facility last week after the labour dispute broke out. The company said today that 27.3 per cent of workers had come back to work today.

However, as the striking miners total 3,000 and the workforce at Marikana is around 28,000, it is unclear how many of those on strike have returned.

Miners affiliated to rival unions, the National Union of Miners (NUM) and the Association of Miners and Construction Union (AMCU), started striking 10 days ago over pay. The workers are paid 4,000 South African rand a month, equivalent to £306, and want their salaries tripled.

Many of the miners armed themselves with sticks and machetes at the Lonmin facility. Strike action was violent over last week, with 10 killed up until Friday in violent clashes, and 34 killed by police gunfire as the violence peaked on Thursday.

Who is to blame for the death at Marikana?

The strikers were still present at the mine over the weekend, and heard a speech from controversial former leader of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, who tweeted on Saturday that he said seen police being confrontational to the miners.

Speaking to the crowd, Malema criticised the NUM, told strikers they should form their own militant union, and called for the resignation of South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma and police minister Nathi Mthethwa over the tragedy.

Hundreds of police are said to be camped out at the mine, carrying out patrols of the area and conducting helicopter surveillance.

Patrick Zuma visits an injured miner (Reuters)

Week of mourning

Yesterday, President Zuma (pictured right, with a miner injured in the clashes) declared a national week of mourning for those killed at Marikana.

The African National Congress leader also announced a national taskforce to assist the familes of the deceased with the identification of their loved ones, funeral arrangements and transport. This follows the announcement of an inquiry into the deaths announced by the president on Friday.

A statement from the ANC called for “calm and cooperation by those affected including the mine workers and their unions, mine management, police and the community of Marikana”.

Bad for business

The strike action is a serious blow of the London-listed Lonmin. The mines at Marikana account for 90 per cent of the company’s output.

Since the strike action began, around 17 per cent has been knocked off the value of the company’s shares, wiping away around £273m of its market value.

The company issued a statement lat week calling the action by the striking miners “disappointing and damaging”.

Lonmin chief financial officer Simon Scott said: “Lonmin has for many years worked tirelessly to achieve effective and open labour relations.

“We engage with all the unions our employees choose to belong to and whilst, like all companies, we have had disagreements, we have generally operated in partnership with the unions to the benefit of the company and the employees, which is why the illegal strike we’ve seen is so disappointing and damaging.

“A stable mining sector is vital to the economic future of this country. If the industry continues to be damaged by illegal actions it is not just the economy which suffers, but all our employees, their families and dependents. We need our employees to come back to work and we need to get mining again.”

Lonmin’s problems have been exacerbated by the announcement last week that Chief Executive Ian Farmer has been admitted to hospital with a “serious illness”.

The company’s shares fell by 4 per cent this morning.