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August 31, 2012 5:25 pm
Some 12,000 workers at a gold mine operated by Gold Fields have gone on strike, in the latest industrial strife to hit South Africa’s mining industry.
Gold Fields, the world’s fourth largest gold producer, said the miners at the KDC mine have been on strike since the start of a night shift on Wednesday over a dispute related to an internal wrangle within the National Union of Mineworkers branch.
Sven Lunsche, a spokesman for Gold Fields, said the wild-cat strike was not directly related to the crisis at the Marikana platinum complex, where 44 people have been killed in violence after rock drill operators downed their tools to demand higher wages on August 10.
But he acknowledged that “the atmosphere in the mining industry is very volatile at the moment and this may have had an indirect impact on the situation”.
The strike was costing the company 1,660 gold ounces of production a day, Mr Lunsche said.
The unrest at Marikana mines operated by Lonmin, the London-listed company, has been complicated by a dispute between the NUM and a rival union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, a newer body that has been making inroads into the platinum sector.
Amcu has no representation at the Gold Fields mine, although it has previously attempted to recruit members there. Industry officials have said the fact that gold producers use collective bargaining to negotiate with unions should reduce the risk of the kind of dispute afflicting Lonmin spreading to that sector.
But the Marikana crisis has triggered nervousness throughout the industry, while also putting focus on what appears to be growing dissatisfaction among workers with the NUM, which has been the dominant union in mining for three decades.
Lesiba Seshoka, a spokesman for the NUM, said the union had sent a team to the KDC mine to see what the workers’ concerns were. But he said suggestions that it was related to an internal union dispute at the mine were “not true”.
He said the issues appeared to be related to compulsory funeral cover for the workers under which R70 was deducted each month from their salary.
Mr Lunsche said the funeral cover had originally been implemented at the NUM’s request, but had been taken off the table by the company as soon as it was raised as a concern by the workers.
At Marikana, Lonmin continued to hold talks with unions mediated by government officials in an attempt to find a solution to its crisis. On Friday, less than 6 per cent of the company’s 28,000 employees turned up for work. The strike is costing Lonmin 2,500 platinum ounces of lost production a day.
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