At least one Lonmin worker was killed on Monday in South Africa as he reported for work at their strike-hit platinum mine, a police spokesman said, threatening the firm’s plans to end the walkout this week.
Lonmin’s chief executive Ben Magara confirmed one employee was killed in what he called a “a very sad incident”, but said it was to early to give further details on a conference call with reporters.
“One person was attacked in Marikana and he died. He was on his way to work,” North West province spokesman Thulani Ngubane said.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said two Lonmin workers had been killed and both NUM and the Solidarity union, which mainly represents skilled workers, said their members were being intimidated.
“Two mine workers were killed this morning. NUM members who went to work are being intimidated and assaulted,” said Livhuwani Mammburu, spokesman for NUM whose members have been abandoning the strike.
“If Lonmin wants our members to return to work they have to guarantee their safety. We have no faith in police – they are not doing anything to protect workers.”
In 2012, Lonmin was at the centre of labour unrest and violence in South Africa that left dozens dead.
The London-listed Lonmin was hoping miners would start returning to work this week after it made its wage offer directly to employees, sidestepping the majority Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) in a bid to end a four-month strike.
Lonmin, the smallest of the three platinum firms hit by the costliest strike in South African mining history, saw its earnings shrink in the six months to the end of March and posted a $164 million in strike-related costs.
“It is a very sad incident and a very sad time,” Magara said during a call with reporters. “My appeal is: our employees have the right to choose (whether to go back to work) in our democratic country and they should be able to exercise that peacefully.”
Lonmin said it expected to assess the success of the return to work by the end of this month, with production provisionally scheduled to start in June, if successful.
Workers attendance levels had gradually increased to 12 percent on Friday, up from between 9 percent and 11.5 percent since the strike began, said Lerato Molebatsi, Lonmin head of public affairs.
“Intimidation is a big issue and highlights that Lonmin is going to be very reliant not only on its own security but also on the government to provide additional security to make the workers feel safe enough to return,” London-based Investec analyst Marc Elliott said.
“Now with the elections out of the way hopefully the government can be more proactive.”
Lonmin said restructuring of its business and job cuts were inevitable as the strike had exacerbated already difficult market conditions.
WAGE OFFER VOTE
Lonmin’s larger rivals, Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum, have also presented wage offers directly to employees after talks with the AMCU collapsed.
Implats spokesman Johan Theron said the company was expected to conclude an SMS vote on its offer on Tuesday. The voting started last week.
AMCU’s leaders maintain that most of their roughly 70,000 striking members are not happy with the latest offer.
The companies are offering increases of up to 10 percent that they say would raise the overall minimum pay package to 12,500 rand ($1,200) a month by July 2017, including cash allowances such as for housing.
AMCU had initially demanded an immediate increase to 12,500 rand in the basic wage, excluding allowances, but softened that in March to staggered increases that would amount to 12,500 rand within three or four years – still a third more than what the companies are offering in basic salaries.
The strike is the longest and costliest to hit South Africa’s mines, highlighting the discontent among black miners who feel they are still not reaping the benefits of the country’s mineral wealth two decades after apartheid ended.
It has hit 40 percent of global platinum output and dented already sluggish growth in Africa’s most advanced economy.