A leading gold mine has started evicting thousands of striking South African miners from company dormitories on Tuesday as work stoppages spread to more gold and platinum mines.
Gold Fields ordered 5,000 workers who have been on strike for three weeks to vacate the mine hostels, on the pretense that striking workers there were intimidating their fellow employees.
Workers at another mine, belonging to Anglo American Platinum, downed tools on Tuesday, and the firm held disciplinary hearings for the strikers.
And at a southern African miner, Gold One, the bulk of 1,800 workers have also embarked on strike since Monday night.
Gold Fields, the world’s number four producer of the precious metal, said it had decided to throw out the strikers from the company hostels, claiming these places were becoming increasingly violent and were being used by the strikers to intimidate, plan and co-ordinate illegal activities.
“The hostels are effectively becoming lawless, and so we decided to put an end to that and close them down for the miners who live there,” Gold Fields spokesperson Sven Lunsche said.
In a copycat move of the deadly Lonmin Marikana mine strike, Gold Fields’ protesting workers on Tuesday gathered on a nearby hill and kept a vigil there, with some planning to spend the night there.
The Lonmin mine strike ended with a measly pay hike last month.
Gold Fields’ KDC West mine – near Johannesburg, which employs 15,000 people – has been crippled since September 9, slowing production by 1,400 ounces of gold a day.
Strikes have spread like wildfire in South Africa since the deadly work stoppage that started at a mine of world’s number three platinum producer Lonmin in August.
In a bid to end the months of labour unrest, South Africa’s powerful trade union federation Cosatu on Tuesday demanded mine owners renegotiate up to 120,000 workers’ contracts a year before they are due to expire.
Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi demanded “negotiations on wages and conditions of employment be re-opened, or that the existing agreement lapsing in 2013 is brought forward”.
The umbrella union made the demands as Anglo American said its employees at its Union Mine in northern Limpopo Province “have refused to go underground for their shifts and have presented a memorandum to the mine’s management”.
Five of Amplats mines have now been hit by industrial unrest since strikes began last month.
The other four mines are located in South Africa’s main platinum belt around Rustenburg, northwest of Johannesburg.
Amplats had given the 26,000 striking workers in Rustenburg until Tuesday to appear in person for disciplinary hearings or risk dismissal.
There were no immediate details on the results of those hearings, but Amplats said disciplinary action was ongoing.
The firm, however, reported that the security situation had deteriorated overnight around Rustenburg, forcing non-striking employees to stay at home and return on Wednesday.
“The security situation in the Rustenburg area worsened during yesterday evening. As a result, Anglo American Platinum advised employees at its Rustenburg mining operations not to attend work today,” it said.
Meantime workers at Gold One’s Cooke 4 Shaft, about 30km from Johannesburg, have not clocked in since Monday night, company vice president Grant Stuart said.
Gold One only started operating the mine in August after it acquired it from First Uranium early this year.
Chief Executive Officer Neal Froneman said the shaft was in marginal operation and, “as such, it is incomprehensible that employees can put both their jobs and the future of this business at such high risk of closure”.