Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the world’s largest platinum producer, has fired 12,000 workers taking part in a three-week illegal strike after following through on tough talk over wildcat stoppages in South African mines.
The move comes after two months of labour unrest that has spread from mines to other parts of the African country’s economy, causing political problems for President Jacob Zuma and his ruling African National Congress (ANC), the veteran liberation movement long closely tied to unions.
“Despite the company’s repeated calls for employees to return to work, we have continued to experience attendance levels of less than 20% (…) Approximately 12,000 striking employees chose not to make representations, nor attend the hearings, and have therefore been dismissed in their absence,” said the company in a statement.
Amplats also confirmed it has begun to experience “strike contagion” at its Union and Amandelbult (Tumela and Dishaba) operations, where workers have presented memorandums of demands similar to those received in Rustenburg.
The company had warned Tuesday it would fire workers if they continued to be on strike.
Meanwhile, gold miner AngloGold Ashanti (NYSE:AU), which has lost virtually all local production due to labour unrest has also said it would downsize if strikes continued, adding they “won’t pull out a Marikana.” With this, South Africa’s largest gold producer meant it is not willing to 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.
As many as 75,000 miners, or 15% of the sector’s workers in the country have been on unofficial strikes over wages that date back to August, when 44 died in a violent crash between demonstrators and police at Lonmin’s (LON:JSE) Marikana mine.
Since then, labour turmoil has spread out and tensions with security forces and mining bosses are running high.
On top of the mining strikes – which are concentrated in the platinum and gold sectors – truck drivers across the African nation have also gone on an indefinite strike, which is putting pressure on fuel suppliers.
South Africa’s mining sector accounts for 6% of gross domestic product and the country’s platinum production equals 75% of the world’s total.
Image is of workers gathering on a hill near the Marikana mine in August.