South African platinum producer Lonmin has dismissed 235 essential mine workers who have held an unauthorised strike since January, despite orders to return to work.
According to Lonmin spokesman Happy Nkhoma, the workers started the boycott on 23 January, when members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) chose to protest for higher wages.
Nkhoma said that those fired were essential services workers who were not allowed to down tools, under an agreement with the AMCU.
"A court order to this effect was obtained on 27 February requiring all essential workers to return to work by 12 May," Nkhoma said.
The AMCU is demanding that workers salaries be doubled to R12,500 ($1,197) as base pay, along with other benefits. The union had earlier rejected an offer proposing to give workers a total package of R12,500.
Lonmin claimed that many workers would like to return to work but are afraid of their striking colleagues and the recent deaths of three miners.
"These are employees who have been absent since 23 January, so the recent intimidation does not explain their absence," Nkhoma added.
The strike has not only affected the company’s annual production, which fell by 43%, but also the South African operations of Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum, which have lost a total of $1.7bn in revenues.
Lonmin CEO Ben Magara said the strike has now entered its 17th week and the company has lost a third of its production for the whole year.
South Africa accounts for 80% of the world’s platinum supply and nearly a third of the world’s palladium.