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S.Africa Lonmin miners end strike, accept pay raise

20 september 2012, 10:47
0
Striking miners. ©AFP
Striking miners. ©AFP
Lonmin platinum mine workers in South Africa on Tuesday ended their strike in return for pay rises of up to 22 percent, after a nearly six-week standoff that claimed 45 lives, AFP reports.

Under a deal hammered out after more than three weeks of talks, and signed late Tuesday by both sides, the miners will go back to work at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) Thursday in return for raises of between 11-22 percent plus bonuses.

The industrial action that started on August 10 and spread to other platinum and gold mining companies had sparked social turmoil and fears about the economic impact on Africa's wealthiest country.

Amid the bitter standoff, police opened fire on striking miners, killing 34 on August 16 in the worst such shooting since the end of apartheid.

When news of the pay offer by the London-listed company was announced earlier Tuesday to workers at a stadium, thousands broke into song and dance, lifting their representatives on their shoulders in celebration.

A young man wrote on his palm "mission accomplished" and showed the message to television cameras.

After a round of fresh talks Tuesday, a negotiator had announced in the afternoon that the workers had settled for a 22 percent wage rise and a $245 one-off bonus from the owners of the world's third largest platinum mine.

"The workers are very happy with it," said Bishop Jo Seoka, the president of the South African Council of Churches, who had brokered the talks.

"And so we believe that what has happened here has been a victory really for the workers, and they're going to work on Thursday morning."

More negotiations involving the unions would kick off in October, he said.

Abey Kgotle, the company's executive director for external affairs, said in the evening: "Lonmin is very pleased to announce the conclusion of this very difficult negotiation that we had to go through."

He said the agreement "brings to an end a very painful five weeks all of us had to go through... It has been a very very tough journey but we thank the parties for the mature manner in which this negotiation went through."

Speaking about those killed, he said "we would like to conclude this agreement in the honour of all the deceased employees we had to bury".

Not all workers rejoiced at the new pay package.

"I am not feeling good because the money is not enough," said Honesty, 26, who said he would nonetheless report for work on Thursday.

The miner -- who was among the 270 survivors arrested after police gunned down the group of striking miners -- suggested those who died in the strike would be turning in their graves.

"Those people who died, they are not feeling good," he said.

Gideon Du Plessis, head of the mainly-white union Solidarity, said "the workers don't have a choice... They know Lonmin cannot give more, and if they don't accept, they will loose their jobs."

Lonmin became the epicentre of a wave of unrest in the vital mining sector in recent weeks, with tensions forcing several firms to suspend operations in the platinum belt of northwestern Rustenburg.

Lomnin -- which slashed its platinum sales forecasts for this year -- had warned that an extended stayaway by miners would cost some 40,000 jobs.

President Jacob Zuma warned Monday that the country could ill afford a recession over the mine stoppages.

Zuma told a conference of the powerful Cosatu labour group that 4.5 billion rand ($548 million, 417 million euros) had been lost in gold and platinum production this year, and 118 million rand in the coal sector.

Following a weekend security crackdown in the mining region, tensions eased slightly and closed-down mines reopened Monday and Tuesday.

Anglo American Platinum, the world's top platinum producer, resumed operations Tuesday after it shut down five mines last week over security fears.

Mining, the backbone of South Africa's economy, employs around 500,000 people and, if related activities are factored in, accounts for nearly one-fifth of gross domestic product.

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