* Essential services workers not allowed to strike
* Workers defied court order to return to work
(Recasts with Lonmin comments)
JOHANNESBURG May 20 South African platinum
miner Lonmin has dismissed 235 essential
services workers who were on an unsanctioned strike and defied a
court order to return to their jobs, it said on Tuesday.
Lonmin said the workers in areas such as safety and
underground maintenance were fired last week after starting a
strike on Jan. 23, when members of the Association of
Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) also went on strike
demanding higher wages.
Under an agreement with AMCU, essential service workers are
not allowed to strike. Lonmin obtained a court order in February
for the workers to return to work by May 12, which was defied.
"The recent intimidation does not explain their absence," a
Lonmin spokesman said, referring to industry accusations that
AMCU strikers have prevented other employees from going to work.
On Monday, Lonmin said it had lost a third of its annual
production due in the industry strike, which its chief executive
described as a "bleeding" that might lead to the firm's death if
not stopped in time.
The strike has also hit the South African operations of
Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum,
taking out 40 percent of global production of the precious metal
used for emissions-capping catalytic converters in automobiles.
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
($1,200) within three or four years - still a third more than
what the companies are offering in basic salaries.
The companies have been taking their latest wage offer
directly to the strikers since talks with the union collapsed in
late April, but AMCU has applied to the Labour Court for an
order to stop the companies from sidestepping it.
The court was due to hear the case on Tuesday.
($1 = 10.3508 South African Rand)
(Reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo in Johannesburg and Silvia
Antonioli in London; Editing by Mark Potter)