No end in sight for South African mining strikes

Labour unrest at Anglo American Platinum’s South Africa operations spread to a new mine on Tuesday as the company, and fellow miner AngloGold Ashanti (NYSE:AU), have hardened their stance on strikers.

The world's biggest platinum producer, Anglo American Platinum, said it would fire employees who did not attend disciplinary hearings on Tuesday. It also reported that workers at its union mine in Limpopo province showed up for work but refused to go underground. Instead, said Amplats, the workers presented a list of demands, including pay raises.

Gold miner AngloGold Ashanti, in turn, said it would downsize if strikes continued and that it “won’t pull out a Marikana.” Meaing the company wouldn’t meet workers'  illegal strike demands outside the formal bargaining structure as Lonmin did.

“We understand what a Lonmin decision would mean for us as a business…. It would mean job losses,” said CEO Mark Cutifini.

AngloGold Ashanti isn’t the only gold producer affected. Gold Fields (JSE, NYSE: GFI) also had to halt production at its mines after a two week strike.

The company said it is applying for an eviction order for workers’ hostels at its KDC West mine, stating they are becoming “hotbeds of violence and intimidation,” said Gold Fields.

In a statement, the miner added Tuesday that —at least— it it has reached a formal agreement with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) to implement a new operating model at its developing South Deep Gold Mine near Johannesburg.

Previously the company dealt with action affecting its KDC mine, on Johannesburg's West Rand, which was resolved at the beginning of this month.

More than better pay

At the heart of the non-stopping labour unrest hitting South Africa there is something far more complex than low salaries, writes analyst Michelle Smith.

With a democracy less than 20 years old, the struggles of apartheid and the promises made at its end remain fresh. Mine workers view themselves as working in a profitable, dangerous industry. They tend to be frustrated by the government, which they believe has short-changed them, and with unions, which they see as more concerned with brushing shoulders with business leaders and politicians than representing their members’ deplorable living conditions.

In the meantime, another union, the South African Transport and Allied Workers (Satawu) have also gone on an indefinite strike demanding wage increases.

RELATED:

South African strikes far from over: AngloGold Ashanti closed >> >>

Anglogold warns of closures as strike losses top $55 million a week >> >>