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Amplats workers down tools after rival union clashes

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Anglo American Platinum workers downed tools on Tuesday to protest the shooting of colleagues by guards during a stand-off by rival unions, the latest outbreak of unrest at the crisis-hit firm.

The world's top platinum producer said its operations in the northwestern mining towns of Rustenburg and Pilanesburg had ground to a halt owing to "an illegal work stoppage this morning."

The strike is "in sympathy with the employees who were involved in yesterday's incident," Amplats spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole said in a statement.

At least 13 people were wounded in gunfire and machete attacks at an Amplats' Siphumelele mine on Monday after security guards battled to disperse a 1,000-strong mob that besieged a rival union's office.

The government has weighed in to condemn the violence.

On Tuesday, nearly 5,000 workers from the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) gathered at a stadium near the Siphumelele shaft to demand the shut down of the rival National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which they blamed for Monday's violence.

AMCU leader Joseph Mathunjwa addressed the workers urging them to return to work.

"We condemn the violence that took place yesterday, (but) being away from work eats into our pockets, so let's return to work," he said.

He urged the workers to report back to work on Wednesday "and allow the leadership to take care of your grievances."

The battle for control of workers was partly blamed for the outbreak of last year's deadly wildcat strikes that rattled the country's vital mining sector.

Amplats has said it is verifying union membership at its mines.

Mathunjwa claimed the AMCU had overtaken the ruling party aligned NUM at Amplats as the leading union, with over 18,000 members out of the 26,000-strong workforce.

"We want Anglo mine bosses to sign the recognition agreement and allow us to operate without problems, and recognise our right to exist represent our members," said Mathunjwa.

After Mathunjwas's address, the crowd shouted in unison that they will return to work on Wednesday, before dispersing.

Armed mine security guards and police patrolled the area around the stadium, where workers in the workers clad in red AMCU t-shirts chanted slogans.

"We want the employer to remove NUM, they have protected them for too long, while they are busy threatening and killing our members," said Gaddafi Mdoda, a workers' representative told AFP.

South African government spokeswoman Phumla Williams condemned the clashes.

"Government will not tolerate violent disputes.Violent acts are not what we want to become familiar with in a democracy that is bound by the rule of law," she said.

Monday's violence at the mine was sparked by the return of four NUM shop stewards.

Thirteen people, including four security guards were hurt when mine guards fired rubber bullets on mob of rampaging workers that had besieged NUM offices.

Some of the policemen were hacked with machetes and sharp objects.

Operations at the world's number one platinum producer were crippled by rolling strikes over wages that hit the country's mining sector last year.

The dispute halted mining at some Amplats mines for months, forcing a slump in fourth quarter production.

Last month it announced plans to slash some 14,000 jobs but was forced to put the layoff procedures on hold following an outcry from unions and the government over the global miner's restructuring move.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130219/amplats-workers-down-tools-after-rival-union-clashes-0