The world's biggest producer of platinum has fired roughly 12,000 striking workers in South Africa, the latest salvo in the labor battles gripping the country's mining industry.
Anglo American Platinum says the strike is illegal under a September court order and has now lasted three weeks, costing the company more than $80 million. At four of its operations in the Rustenburg area, less than 20% of workers are on the job.
The company warned earlier this week that the company had “no alternative but to dismiss” workers who did not show up to disciplinary hearings on the strike.
"Approximately 12,000 striking employees chose not to make representations, nor attend the hearings, and have therefore been dismissed in their absence," Anglo American Platinum said in a statement Friday. Other workers who attended the hearings would be informed of the outcome later Friday, the company said.
The striking miners reportedly are seeking a pay raise to roughly $1,500 a month. Strike leader Gaddafi Mdoda told Associated Press that the fired miners would continue and even step up their strike, even if they were no longer employed by Anglo American Platinum.
The dispute has alarmed local officials, who fear new eruptions of violence. Thirty-four striking miners were killed by police at the Marikana mine owned by another platinum company in August, outraging South Africans who saw echoes of apartheid bloodshed in the killings. In the area near the Rustenburg mines, one mineworker was reportedly killed Thursday night; the incident is under investigation.
The dispute unnerved companies and investors with the fear that other laborers will split away from their unions and cast off existing wage agreements in rogue strikes.
The Ministry of Labor announced Friday that it was launching a new effort to create centralized bargaining for the mining sector to stabilize the industry.
“There are still worrying levels of strike action in the gold and coal sectors, and it will be important to ensure that stability returns to the mining sector as a whole as soon as possible,” labor minister Mildred Oliphant said, adding: “How we respond to these challenges will impact on the future of labor relations in South Africa.”
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Striking mine workers demonstrate outside the Anglo American Platinum mine on Friday in Rustenburg, South Africa. Credit: Stephane de Sakutin / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images