Gold Fields strike ends, 1,500 sacked as South Africa trouble simmers

Reuters News

10/19/2012 1:33:42 AM - Reuters News

By Sherilee Lakmidas

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African workers officially ended a month-long strike at major bullion producer Gold Fields on Friday but there was still no end in sight for wildcat walkouts that have paralysed other gold and platinum producers.

More than 80,000 miners have downed tools in the resource-rich country since August in often violent strikes over pay and working conditions that are hitting growth and investor confidence in Africa's biggest economy and raising questions about President Jacob Zuma's leadership.

Nearly 50 people have died in labour strife since August, including 34 striking miners shot dead on August 16 at Lonmin's Marikana mine in the deadliest security incident since the end of white-minority rule.

Thousands of Lonmin workers staged a one-day walkout on Thursday to protest against the arrests of colleagues who are suspected of murdering rival labour leaders. Lonmin said on Friday it was back to normal operations.

Gold Fields, the world's No. 4 producer, said about 11,000 workers, threatened with dismissal if they did not return by Thursday, have returned to work at its KDC West operations in Carletonville, 40 km (25 miles) west of Johannesburg.

"At KDC West the strike is officially over. The 1,500 employees who did not report for work before Thursday's deadline were dismissed but have until midday on Friday to appeal their dismissal," said company spokesman Sven Lunsche.

On Thursday, all of the 9,000 workers at its Beatrix mine in the Free State province returned and Lunsche said the remaining 8,500 on strike at its KDC East operations would be issued an ultimatum "anytime now".

"The raiding of hostels and disarming of strikers gave workers the confidence to return to work," said Lunsche.

AngloGold Ashanti, the world's No. 3 gold producer, is relying on negotiations at the Chamber of Mines to end the strikes at its South African operations.

Gold companies represented by the chamber on Thursday tweaked a proposal to lift the pay of the lowest paid workers in a bid to end the illegal strikes.

The labour unrest has hit at the heart of the post-apartheid economic structure where the ruling African National Congress and its union allies would insure a steady supply of labour for industry in return for moderate pay increases.

Strikers have often said union bosses are more concerned about keeping close ties with politicians and company bosses than protecting workers in mine shafts.

"Harmony's Kusasalethu is still on an unprotected strike. Other operations in Harmony are still in operation," said Harmony Gold Mining spokeswoman Henrika Basterfield.

A month-long strike at Anglo American Platinum is no closer to ending. The company has sacked 12,000 at its Rustenburg operations.

(Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Louise Ireland)