JOHANNESBURG The world's top platinum producer, Anglo American Platinum, has started disciplinary action including possible dismissal against workers taking part in an illegal strike in South Africa, the company said on Thursday.
The company, a unit of global mining giant Anglo American, also said that attendance at its four mines near Rustenburg, 120 km (70 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, remained below 20 percent despite repeated threats to get tough.
A wave of wildcat strikes is roiling South Africa's mining sector despite the end of an illegal six-week stoppage at platinum producer Lonmin in which 46 people were killed.
Amplats' chief executive Chris Griffith said on Wednesday the company would start making good on threats to sack workers if they did not report for duty within 24 hours.
"Despite repeatedly urging our employees to come back to work, attendance at our Rustenburg operations remains low," he said. "We have been left with no choice but to initiate disciplinary action, which could lead to dismissals."
Rustenburg labor activist and community representative Mametlwe Sebei struck a defiant tone, saying striking Amplats workers were not intimidated by the ultimatum.
"No amount of threats are going to move our workers from their demands," he told Reuters.
The demands include an increase in a minimum monthly wage to 12,500 rand ($1,500), more than double that currently earned by those at the bottom of the pay scale.
When rival Impala Platinum fired 17,000 illegal strikers in the same area in January, it unleashed a wave of violence that closed its Rustenburg operation, the world's largest platinum mine, for 6 weeks. Three people were killed.
ANC outcast Julius Malema, a populist who has backed the wildcat strikes and called for the nationalization of South Africa's mines, is due to address Implats' workers later on Thursday to encourage them to press for higher wages.
Close to 75,000 workers are on strike or being prevented from going to work in South Africa's mining sector, including at mines run by the world's third- and fourth-biggest bullion producers, AngloGold Ashanti and Gold Fields.
(Additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher; Writing by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Ed Cropley)