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Amplats fires 12 000 workers ahead of talks

Jocelyn Newmarch

A new round of talks between the platinum industry and unions got off to a rocky start, as Amplats announced it had fired 12 000 striking workers.

A new round of talks between the platinum industry and unions got off to a rocky start on Friday, as Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) announced it had fired 12 000 striking workers.

"Disciplinary hearings for striking Rustenburg mine employees have been completed and affected employees will be informed of the outcome of the hearings today," it said in a statement.

Employees would have three working days to appeal. "Approximately 12 000 striking employees chose not to make representations, nor attend the hearings, and have therefore been dismissed in their absence," Amplats said.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant and North West Premier Thandi Modise called for calm in the sector. Oliphant reiterated the importance of consultation when drawing up collective bargaining agreements.

"There are still worrying numbers of workers on strike," she said at the launch of talks between unions and platinum companies in Johannesburg. "It is important that stability returns to the platinum sector as soon as possible."

It was hoped the talks would result in an agreement which would resolve the strikes by the end of the month.

Modise made her appeal after a spate of violence associated with a work stoppage at Amplats operations in Rustenburg. "Wage negotiations should not be characterised by violence," she said in a statement.

"Urgent interventions have to be made to manage the situation and compromises reached before it deteriorates further. We are extremely worried that violence is once again rearing its ugly head and spilling over to local businesses and people who are not party to the labour dispute."

An urgent solution had to be found to avert further violent confrontations.

"We cannot afford another Marikana," she said, referring to Lonmin mine where 46 people were killed in strike action in August.

A mineworker at Amplats mine was shot dead on a hill at the Nkaneng informal settlement in Photsaneng on Thursday night.

North West police said a case of murder had been opened and forwarded to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid).

"The cause of the death and all its circumstances are currently under investigation by the Ipid, as the incident appeared to have arisen from police action," Colonel Emelda Setlhako said.

Strikes were reported in the diamond, iron, chrome, platinum and gold sectors this week.

There were indications on Friday that some strikes could soon be resolved.

Petra Diamonds' workers would resume their duties on Sunday, the National Union of Mineworkers said. "They have agreed to stop the strike," said NUM spokesperson Peter Bailey.

"An agreement has been signed and all operations will normalise on Sunday."

Details of the agreement were not yet available. Kumba Iron Ore met workers' representatives at its Sishen mine in the Northern Cape late on Thursday.

"Representatives of the group met with mine management for the first time late yesterday [Thursday] to deliver their demand for a R15 000 monthly salary ... to be paid to all Kumba employees," said spokesperson Gert Schoeman.

He said workers went on strike on Wednesday and were not represented by any union.

Representatives of striking AngloGold Ashanti workers would meet with unions next week to discuss their wage demands, workers outside Fochville in the North West heard on Friday.

"We have already arranged to meet with them." NUM president Senzeni Zolwana had "promised", workers' representative Rodgers Motlhabane told hundreds of miners gathered on a hill at the Mahalesuku informal settlement.

"We want to meet the national executive committee. That's the only people we are willing to meet," he said.

Gold Fields was quiet on Friday, said company spokesperson Sven Lunsche. "No incident has been reported," he said, adding that some workers had handed over sticks and knobkerries after an NUM appeal.

"It is a good step. We have been successful in that [disarming]."

The SABC reported earlier that workers at De Beers' Venetia mine in Limpopo also had gone on strike, this was denied by De Beers spokesperson Tom Tweedy. "There is absolutely no strike at Venetia mine," he said. – Sapa

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