(Recasts with company statement)
By Agnieszka Flak
JOHANNESBURG May 18 Operations at a chrome mine
in South Africa owned by chemicals group Lanxess have
been suspended since Thursday after some 470 workers started an
illegal strike over bonus payments, the company said on
The dispute at the mine in Rustenburg, 120 km (70 miles)
northwest of Johannesburg, adds to growing labour tensions
around South Africa's platinum belt, which are set to intensify
over looming job cuts and wage talks in the sector.
"The workforce downed tools, embarking on a strike which
entered its second day on Friday. It was declared an illegal
work stoppage by a court interdict (order) issued on Friday,"
the company said in a statement.
"The interdict ordered employees to report for work with
immediate effect. However, most of the workforce has not
complied with the order."
The company said the workers, who are members of the
National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), were entitled to a
production-based bonus scheme, but were not eligible to payments
under any other plans.
Mxhasi Sithethi, the union's regional co-ordinator for
Rustenburg, said the situation around the mine had been tense on
Friday, although there were no reports of violence.
"We are trying to persuade workers to go back," he said.
The union will be in talks with the workers and the company
on Monday to find a solution to the dispute, he added.
Rustenburg, the centre of South Africa's platinum belt and
home to 80 percent of known global platinum reserves, has over
the past year become the flashpoint of violent labour strife and
a turf war between the NUM and the more militant Association of
Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).
More than 50 people were killed in labour-related violence
last year amid a wave of wildcat strikes that hit production in
the platinum and gold sectors, and there are concerns that there
could be more unrest after Anglo American Platinum
announced plans to cut 6,000 mining jobs around Rustenburg.
That is less than half the 14,000 initially targeted by the
world's top producer of the precious metal as it seeks to
restore profits, but unions have still vowed to fight the
lay-offs. However, a protest strike called for Friday by at
least two AMCU officials failed to materialise.
Upcoming wage talks in South Africa's mining sector are also
expected to be difficult given inflation, rising worker
militancy, shrinking company margins and sharply falling
commodity prices. The platinum price lost nearly 20
percent in the last two years.
AMCU's leader on Friday threatened to bring Africa's biggest
economy to a standstill, ramping up the rhetoric in the 18-month
labour crisis, while the rand fell to a four-year low against
the dollar this week on concerns about further disruptions to an
already struggling economy.
The growing tensions have put pressure on President Jacob
Zuma's African National Congress (ANC), which was criticised for
its handling of last year's turmoil and faces accusations that
it is neglecting the poor 19 years after the end of apartheid.
(Editing by David Holmes)