The Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) operation in South Africa, which is operated by multinational metals and mining company Rio Tinto, has been closed in the wake of violent community protests.
According to South Africa-based National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the protests resulted in the death of a security guard earlier this week.
A Rio spokesman was quoted by Reuters as saying: “Due to the escalation in activity around the blockades on the access roads, staff were sent home on Friday. Our highest priority is the safety of our people.”
The trade union noted that the unrest between contractors and Rio Tinto has led to NUM members being sent on forced leave for an indefinite period of time.
NUM Kwazulu-Natal Regional Secretary Muzi Zakwe said: “Our members have nothing to do with issues between RBM and their community and contractors, therefore, we will not allow the employer to resort to statutory leave territory of our members.
“This is not for the first time our members day’s leave has been used in this manner since it happened in March this year. The employer must introduce a leave of the special kind known as Community riot leave in order to avoid tapping into our members leave days.”
The union has urged the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) to work towards a speedy resolution of the issues between RBM and community/contractors.
Rio Tinto owns a 74% stake in RBM, which produces ilmenite from mineral sand deposits.
The company intends to continue mining operations in RBM’s Zulti South lease area until 2030.