UPDATE 1-Rio Tinto's Rossing: Namibia strike ruled illegal

Wed Sep 28, 2011 12:15pm EDT

* Rossing says workers have to return to work immediately

* Union says appeals ruling, to strike until appeal heard (Adds union appeal, details)

JOHANNESBURG, Sept 28 (Reuters) - The management at Rio Tinto's Rossing uranium mine in Namibia said a labour court had decided in the company's favour and declared an ongoing strike at the operation illegal.

The company said on Wednesday all workers, who have been on strike since the early shift on Friday, were required to return to work immediately. The union said it had appealed the ruling and would continue its walkout.

"The company is pleased to note that the employees' demand for 30,000 Namibian dollars ($3,808) cannot permissibly form part of any lawful industrial action, and a final relief order was issued to declare the current strike illegal," the mining firm said in a statement.

The Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN), which represents some 1,200 of Rossing's 1,600 workers, has been protesting over differences in bonuses paid to workers and management in a dispute that sparked a three-day strike in July.

"(The appeal) in principle suspends the labour court verdict, meaning that the status quo remains until the urgent application is heard and the new verdict is given," MUN's Rossing branch representative, Ismael Kasuto, told Reuters.

Rossing had already offered workers an unconditional up-front payment of 15,200 Namibian dollars and a further N$2,100 to N$5,150 per worker, which is conditional on safety and production performance during the fourth quarter.

That offer was snubbed by the workers in favour of a strike.

Workers have been asking for N$30,000 each, on top of N$11,000 they have already received.

The company said on Wednesday it would consider the next steps for resolving the outstanding issues in the dispute once work has returned to normal.

The strike has hurt output at Rossing, where production was already hit by heavy rains earlier in the year. Rossing produced around 8 million pounds (3.63 million kgs) of uranium last year.

Rio Tinto has a 68.6 percent stake in the mine.

($1 = 7.876 Namibian Dollars) (Reporting by Agnieszka Flak and Olivia Kumwenda; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Jane Baird)