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Threats Of Dismissal Breaking SAfrica's Strikes

RODNEY MUHUMUZA

JOHANNESBURG (AP) â¿¿ Return to work or you're fired.

That ultimatum from South African mining companies to strikers appears to be getting the desired result, convincing thousands of workers to settle for less than their original demands in order to keep their jobs.

Labor unrest in South Africa's mines, which until recently showed little sign of abating, now appears to be tapering off in the face of employers' tough stance against wildcat strikes.

South Africa's Chamber of Mines, representing mine owners, announced Thursday that it had agreed with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) to raise gold miners' monthly salaries by up to 500 rand (about $57), in addition to a pay raise of up to 10 percent that miners got in July, weeks before wildcat strikes hit South Africa's platinum and gold mines. The raises fall far short of what most strikers are demanding: 16,000 rand (about $1,800) in monthly pay. Most miners currently earn about 4,000 rand ($500).

NUM, the majority union, is increasingly reviled by miners who charge it is too close to mine owners and is not assertively pressing for wage raises.

"We've always stuck to our guns that collective bargaining must be maintained," said Sven Lunsche, a spokesman for Gold Fields, whose threats to fire striking workers ended stoppages at three of its mines outside Johannesburg. More than 28,000 Gold Fields miners who were on strike "are now back at work or have been dismissed," Lunsche said Thursday, adding that 7,300 of the 8,100 mineworkers who were still striking early this week have now appealed after being fired.

Gold Fields became the second company to issue strikers with threats of dismissal that have been condemned by the influential Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU) as too arrogant.

Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the first to act by firing 12,000 miners at its Rustenburg operations earlier this month, has come under fire from COSATU, which is planning a massive street march Saturday in support of the fired miners.

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