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Published: Thursday, 1/23/2014

Platinum miners strike in South Africa

Workers demand higher wages; government vows to keep order

A couple walks with their a dog past the entrance to the Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana, near Rustenburg, South Africa. A couple walks with their a dog past the entrance to the Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana, near Rustenburg, South Africa.

RUSTENBURG, South Africa — Tens of thousands of platinum miners in South Africa went on strike today, demanding higher wages in a protest that is disrupting one of the country’s major industries.

Protesters from the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union sang and danced outside one mine shaft in Rustenburg, the center of major platinum operations. Some wore hard hats, and one donned a zebra mask.

South Africa is the world’s leading producer of the metal, which is used in medical, electronic and other industries.

Stephen Dijo, a union representative, acknowledged reports that the South African economy will suffer if the strike is protracted, but said many workers who go underground struggle to pay for basic needs. The union demands for a monthly entry-level wage for underground workers of the equivalent of $1,140.

One mining company, Impala Platinum, has offered to increase the minimum wage for underground workers from about $800 to $1,000 over a three-year period. It said the amount excludes benefits including medical aid and overtime payments.

The company said its offer is fair in a tough environment of rising costs and depressed global markets.

There were no reports of violence as the strike began. South African officials have appealed for dialogue and say they will act decisively to enforce the law. In 2012, police shot and killed several dozen miners during labor unrest at a Lonmin platinum mine. An inquiry into the shootings is still underway.

Anglo American Platinum, a mining company, reported low worker attendance at several mines and said production would be affected. It welcomed a government offer to help mediate talks between workers and management.

“Striking is not a constructive solution if we are to return the company to a sustainable financial footing and secure existing jobs,” company CEO Chris Griffith said in a statement.

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