Sierra Leone workers strike at Shandong's iron ore mine

FREETOWN, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Hundreds of Sierra Leonean workers at Shandong Steel’s iron ore mine declared an unlimited strike on Saturday, alleging unfair treatment, a union leader said.

The Chinese firm, formerly a minority partner of African Minerals in the African Minerals-run project, acquired full ownership earlier this year and resumed operations in May.

Local workers at the site in the Tonokolili District in central Sierra Leone have expressed dissatisfaction with severance packages offered as the Chinese firm seeks to cut costs amid low iron ore prices.

Chinese workers did not appear to be joining the strike.

“Some people opted to leave to our greatest surprise they were only paid two months salary regardless of how many years they had worked for the company,” said union leader Thaimu Bundu Conteh.

Some social security benefits had also not been paid, he claimed. The company could not be reached for comment.

Sierra Leone had hoped the project will help kickstart the West African country’s economic recovery as it seeks to emerge from a devastating Ebola epidemic.

Growth is expected to contract 21.5 percent this year due to both Ebola and falling iron ore prices. (Reporting by Umaru Fofana; Writing by Emma Farge)