* Seven in hospital, nine arrested after clash with police
* Illegal labour unrest spreads across coal industry
* Exxaro threatens to fire striking miners
JOHANNESBURG, March 20 Police fired rubber
bullets at striking workers at Shanduka Coal's Graspan colliery
in South Africa after the demonstrators tried to charge their
lines with earth-moving equipment, police and the company said
Seven workers were admitted to hospital and nine were
arrested after the incident on Tuesday. Operations at Graspan
remained suspended on Wednesday following the wildcat protest by
about 250 employees.
The Shanduka walkout adds to growing labour unrest in South
Africa's coal industry, which flared again two weeks ago after
violent mining strikes last year which included the killing by
police of 34 striking platinum miners.
The problems could seriously hit the sector and affect
Shanduka Coal, partly owned by global commodity trader
Glencore, said the walkout was unlawful and a breach of
"The police dispersed the striking employees, who were on
mine premises illegally, had seized mine equipment, and were
refusing to leave peacefully," it said in a statement.
Police said workers refused to disperse after handing over a
notice to management detailing their demands. Some of them
charged the police lines with heavy earth-moving equipment, said
Mpumalanga province police spokesman Brigadier Selvy
"That is when the police used rubber bullets to disperse the
crowd," he said.
National Union of Mineworkers spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said
he was not sure if the injured workers were NUM members or not.
"But we are very concerned about the actions of the police.
We have sent an investigating team to investigate allegations
that live ammunition was used," he told Reuters.
The labour strife in the coal industry started at collieries
owned by diversified mining company Exxaro two weeks
ago, with operations at five of its collieries and a char plant,
which supplies the ferroalloys industry, suspended.
Exxaro said on Wednesday it could dismiss the 3,200 coal
miners who are participating in the illegal strike if they
refused to return to work by next week.
"At this stage the company is weighing its options going
forward, but engagement continues with the National Union of
Mineworkers to try get people back to work and to find a
solution," it said in a written response to questions.
Exxaro's strike also turned violent this week, with police
firing rubber bullets at strikers at one mine.
A prolonged shutdown at coal mines could put pressure on
state electricity utility Eskom, which uses coal to generate 85
percent of the electricity powering Africa's biggest economy.
Eskom is already struggling to keep power flowing to
factories, mines and smelters that had to shut for days five
years ago when the national grid nearly collapsed, costing
billions of dollars in lost output.