|Marikana mine workers return to work|
|Friday, 21 September 2012 00:00|
“We’re happy to go to work. We got what we wanted,” said Yandisa Mehlo (37).
The mine was a hive of activity after lying quiet for weeks as packed buses ferried miners to work after they sealed pay hikes, of between 11 and 22 percent, in mediated talks that broke the deadlock dating to August 10.
“The strike is over now,” said David Mgengwane, wearing a T-shirt with the word “Revolution” on the front.
“I’m happy! I’m a breadwinner, my family is going to be happy,” said the 24-year-old, who supports his father and two sisters.
The breakthrough was bitterly won after the illegal strike sparked the worst police violence since the end of apartheid in 1994, with 34 people shot dead at the Marikana plant where a total of 46 people have died.
The workers’ wage demands and threats of deeper strike action were also taken up by other gold and platinum miners, raising fears of a major economic fallout as the rising tensions forced several shaft closures over safety fears.
Workers at the nearby Anglo American Platinum, the world’s number one platinum miner, faced an ultimatum to return to work by yesterday nightshift after the company declared it had also been hit by an illegal strike.
The unrest has also spread to Gold Fields where 15 000 miners downed tools in an illegal stayaway 11 days ago, echoing the Lonmin strikers’ demands for an increase in monthly wages to R12 500. The company says it’s losing 1 400 ounces of gold daily.
On Wednesday, police fired rubber bullets, teargas and stun grenades at Amplats, arresting 22 people in a government-ordered crackdown on the spread of troubles on the key industry which is the backbone of Africa’s powerhouse. The police, supported by the army, moved into the restive platinum belt after the clampdown was announced last week. The latest fatality came on Wednesday when a woman was shot by police using rubber bullets.
Yesterday, police vehicles kept a discreet distance as workers returned, but were still camped in masses at a nearby operations centre set up to deal with area tensions.
Most workers were happy with the pay increase despite it falling short of demands. Others were less satisfied, but returned to work out of desperation after going without pay for over a month.
“I return to work because I’m so hungry,” said Phumlile Macefane (24).
“I’m unhappy because I can’t get R12 500,” he said, adding: “My brothers are dead, were killed by the police.”
The deal also raised alarms of a dangerous precedent for the hammering out of worker wage demands with Lonmin’s pay deal secured after workers bypassed recognised union structures and after shocking bloodshed.
Lonmin’s acting CEO Simon Scott told Business Day that he hoped for a return to established labour channels, with the company having long warned that the worker demands were unaffordable.
“We’ve got to work at rebuilding trust and getting processes into place so workers deem they can work through their unions. We are going to act within structures and rules and it isn’t our intention to continue talking directly to workers,” he said.
The government has defended its crackdown, sounding a warning on the economic fallout of production losses at crippled mines and investor jitters.
Mining directly employs around 500 000 people and, if related activities are factored in, accounts for nearly one-fifth of gross domestic product and twice as many jobs. — AFP.