Wildcat strikes up stakes in South Africa labor game

Sun Oct 7, 2012 5:34pm EDT
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By David Dolan and Jon Herskovitz

IKANINI, South Africa (Reuters) - The rules of the game in South Africa's labour market have changed and the new players are workers such as Tshepo Modise and Thulani Soko, wildcat strikers at mining giant Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) (AMSJ.J: Quote).

They feel underpaid, stretched to the limit financially and betrayed by established unions they say are more concerned about ties with politicians and management than workers in the shafts.

But to a few global mining firms, they are part of an overpaid workforce breaking their contracts and in the crosshairs for sacking as costs are cut at marginal shafts in South Africa.

"We no longer want to sit at the table with unions. We've been sabotaged," said Modise, a 30-year-old machine operator at Ikanini, a slum settlement next to an Amplats mine 120 kilometers (75 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.

Since the end of apartheid in 1994, workers have won steady wage increases, but millions of jobless South Africans have missed out on the gains, becoming reliant on the state or relatives for help.

Income inequality in South Africa, already among the world's highest, has grown worse since the former liberation movement African National Congress took over after the end of white-minority rule.

Modise and his 33-year-old colleague Soko speak bitterly about living conditions in Ikanini, where there is no running water or electricity, compared with the prosperity of mine managers who live nearby.

The unrest has also led to job losses; Amplats on Friday sacked 12,000 wildcat strikers, and the next day Atlatsa Resources ATL.V dismissed some of the 2,500 workers who went on strike this week at its Bokoni platinum mine.   Continued...

Striking platinum miners march near the Anglo-American Platinum (AMPLATS) mine near Rustenburg in South Africa's North West Province, October 5, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings