Disruptions to South Africa's key mining sector increased as AngloGold Ashanti said Wednesday that strikers have halted all its operations in the country, which provide 32 percent of the multinational's gold production.
Strikes demanding higher salaries began at a Lonmin Platinum mine Aug. 10 and have spread to several others in the mining sector vital to Africa's largest economy. Anglo American Platinum workers have been striking for weeks. The labor unrest moved Monday to the transport sector with a major union saying 20,000 road freight employees are demanding a 12 percent pay rise.
AngloGold Ashanti spokesman Alan Fine said strikers prevented Tuesday's night shift from starting at the company's West Wits and Vaal River operations. They joined co-workers who downed tools at AngloGold's Kopanang mine on Sept. 20.
Fine said strikers, who are among 36,000 workers at the three sites, have not yet made demands.
Hundreds of Anglo American Platinum Mine workers gathered at the Bleskop stadium near Rustenburg on Wednesday to discuss the new terms they've given Amplats. Workers yesterday met with mine management and said they now demand a monthly take home pay of 12,500 rand ($1,560). Strike leader Gaddafi Mdoda said that the company will have seven days to respond, and the strikes will continue.
Amplats called the strikes illegal in a statement released Wednesday, and threatened disciplinary action for employees who "persist in unlawful strike action" on Thursday.
"We have repeatedly urged our employees to come back to work and I do so again," said Chris Griffith, CEO of Anglo American Platinum. "Our Rustenburg mining operations are under considerable economic pressure and their future is already under review."
Anglo American Platinum is the world's largest producer of the precious metal used in jewelry and to reduce carbon emissions of high-end vehicles.
Police were on standby at the stadium.
Mining is a crucial sector in the South African economy. South Africa produces 75 percent of the world's platinum and is the No. 4 chrome producer and the fifth-biggest gold producer. South Africa produces 7 percent of the world's production of gold.
The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union said Wednesday that industrial action will be consolidated "to ensure that the employers start feeling the heat and return to the negotiations table."
Vincent Masogo of SATAWU said that at least 1,000 strikers started marching in South Africa's eastern port city of Durban, and gatherings will continue in Johannesburg. He said they have called on workers to refrain from violence. Strikers on Tuesday threw stones at trucks driving by.
The transport union said there are no talks at the moment, and they hope the unrest will spread until a deal is reached.
"We intend to ignite further sympathy and solidarity strikes from our members in sectors such as maritime and freight rail in an effort to ensure that no goods and parcels move till the road freight workers' demands are fully met," the statement said.
A statement released by the Road Freight Employers Association Wednesday said it went to negotiate with the unions Tuesday thinking an in-principle agreement would be signed based on 18 days of prior negotiations. However it was at that meeting it received the demand for a 12 percent increase in pay.
"It was with utter shock and dismay that the RFEA received the latest position of the unions," it said in a statement attributed to executive officer Magretia Brown-Engelbrecht. "We view the unions' conduct in extreme bad faith. As a result, we now face prolonged strike action and accompanying financial losses."
It said because of those losses "the RFEA had no choice but to revert to a lower offer of 8 percent," and that it "remains committed to resolve the dispute as soon as possible."