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Miners vow to stay underground despite promise to suspend 'sex pest'

The Lanxess Chrome Mine in Rustenburg, where 290 Numsa members have been underground since Wednesday last week in what management has described as an unprotected strike.
The Lanxess Chrome Mine in Rustenburg, where 290 Numsa members have been underground since Wednesday last week in what management has described as an unprotected strike.
Image: Lanxess

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) has called on the government to intervene in a dispute that has resulted in close to 300 of its members protesting underground in Rustenburg.

Workers at Lanxess Chrome Mine have been underground since Wednesday last week. Tuesday was the seventh day since Numsa members embarked on the underground strike, which is largely over claims that Lanxess did not take action against a mine captain accused of sexual assault. 

Their protest against the employer remains unresolved.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim confirmed on Tuesday that members went on an underground strike following management’s failure to decisively deal with the sexual harassment case.

"The alleged male perpetrator would have been suspended pending an investigation and a disciplinary process. However, before such processes were observed, the company decided to lift the suspension and brought him back to work," said Jim, adding that this angered members, who then decided to strike.

Jim said although the parties met at the weekend and had agreed on most of the main issues dividing the parties, the issue of 56 workers dismissed in May last year had still not been resolved. The union had proposed that the 56 members - who they believed to have been dismissed in controversial circumstances - be reinstated.

Jim said the parties had agreed on the main issue: that the suspected sex predator be suspended. He said the parties had also agreed that the employees on strike would not be subjected to disciplinary action.

"Of course, workers and the union are flexible ... We are not necessarily saying that workers should just be taken back without any form of a sanction as a corrective measure. However, what members are firm about is that workers can be given some form of a sanction less than a dismissal, as they are not prepared to allow a situation where workers are just made victims of poverty by subjecting them to unemployment as a product of this management’s witch hunt and harassment," said Jim.

Lanxess MD Ben Marais said talks to resolve the strike failed on Monday night and the employer regretted that Numsa was no longer willing to talk.

“The company takes these developments and demands very seriously and remains available to discuss all addressed matters in the appropriate forums,” he said.

Marais said the mine’s priority was the safety and wellbeing of all employees underground. "We urge Numsa to act in a responsible manner: ending the illegal strike activities immediately, as per the court interdict, in the interest of their members who remain underground," he said.

Marais said all production on site has been stopped and the mine clinic has been closed to ensure the safety of all employees not involved in the strike action, adding that a supply of fresh water and fresh air was being maintained underground.

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