Lonmin miners accept pay rise to end strike
Cheers as Marikana miners accept 22% wage hike
Striking platinum miners at Lonmin’s Marikana mine have accepted a hefty pay rise offer, ending six weeks of violent labour unrest that killed 45 people and rattled Africa’s largest economy.
The strikers, grouped on a bare soccer pitch near the mine, 100km northwest of Johannesburg, cheered when they were told that management were offering a 22% pay increase, and said they would return to work on Thursday.
“I am happy — and forward with the struggle,” said one of the striking miners, Sithembile Sohati.
“It’s a huge achievement. No union has achieved a 22% increase before,” said Zolisa Bodlani, a worker representative at Marikana.
Lonmin confirmed that the deal had been signed in Rustenburg on Tuesday night.
“The agreement includes a signing bonus of 2,000 rand and an average rise in wages of between 11 and 22% for all employees falling within the Category 3-8 bargaining units, effective from 1 October 2012,” it said in a statement.
About 3,000 miners them packed the mine's Wonderkop Stadium for report back from their representatives.
Rock drill operators will now get R11,078 a month before deductions, production team leaders R13,022, and operators R9,883.
They will also receive a once-off bonus of R2,000.
President of the SA Council of Churches, Bishop Jo Seoka, who was part of the workers' negotiating team, said the offer was closer to the R12,500 the workers had been demanding since they went on strike on August 10.
"It is a victory for the workers because there has never been an increase of over 20% before," he said.
"All I can say is that it is a healthy fee and we are happy with it. The workers will go back to work on Thursday (tomorrow)."
In heart-warming scenes, miners waved at departing police, who had been keeping an eye on the events.
In another sign that weeks of trouble in South Africa’s platinum belt were ending, the world's biggest platinum producer, Anglo American Platinum, said it had resumed operations in the strike-hit Rustenburg area.
The conflict, most notably the police killing of 34 Marikana strikers on Aug. 16, had also ignited criticism that President Jacob Zuma and his ruling African National Congress were neglecting poor workers and siding with wealthy business owners.
Zuma acknowledged that the wildcat industrial action had caught the government and powerful allies such as the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on the hop.
“This incident has been a surprise given the established procedures we have in place,” he told reporters in Brussels minutes after news of the settlement.
The deal will see wages raised by up to 22% depending on the category of worker but that percentage hike is not across the board, according to the Solidarity trade union of skilled workers, which was not on strike but took part in the talks.
The rock drill operators who began the strike will receive an effective 22% rise on their total package including allowances which will bring it to just over 11,000 rand per month, Solidarity said.
Marikana strikers’ representative Bodlani said the workers had asked Lonmin management to promise that they would work with unions to reach within two years the 12,500 rand basic monthly salary that the miners had originally demanded.
The company has not yet responded to this. It had previously argued that paying 12,500 rand a month would put thousands of jobs at risk and challenge the viability of the business.
- In its statement, Amplats said it considered it was now safe for employees to return to their jobs but acknowledged that “many mining employees are still to return to work”.
It said smelting and other processing operations at Rustenburg were already at normal levels.
Amplats suspended operations in the heart of the platinum belt last week when machete-wielding strikers marched on shafts.
- An illegal strike by 15,000 workers at the KDC West mine operated by Gold Fields, the world’s fourth largest bullion producer, continued on Tuesday as its chief executive said the firm would not agree to demands for a minimum wage of 12,500 rand a month.