Workers have been prevented from returning to work at Lonmin platinum mine in South Africa, according to both mine bosses and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Lonmin insists that many workers want to return underground but have been threatened into continuing the strike.

Wednesday was set as the deadline for workers to return to Lonmin, who bypassed the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) leaders in an effort to convince workers to return after almost four months of strikes, but the situation at the mine is “tense,” according to the company.

Following the deaths of three miners recently, police have been deployed at Lonmin, escorting employees wishing to return to duty in armoured vehicles. Nevertheless, workers have reported that they have been unable to get to bus stations due to “people singing and carrying weapons” despite the police presence, said NUM regional secretary Sydwell Dokolwana.

The strike has been ongoing since 23 January 2014, with Amcu sticking to its demand of reaching a R12 500 basic salary over a four-year period while the mines’ latest offer would see workers earn a minimum cash remuneration – comprising basic wages and holiday, living-out and other allowances – of R12 500 a month by 2017.

Meanwhile, Amcu has turned to South Africa’s labour court in an effort to prevent employers from communicating directly with workers about the wage offer after the union rejected their last proposal earlier this month.

The platinum producers Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin have responded in a joint statement, saying “The producers are seeking an end to the strike. To this end the companies have tabled a fair, affordable and sustainable wage offer to Amcu. The companies want to ensure that employees are fully informed of the offer, and that they are empowered to accept or reject the offer of their own free will.

“Amcu leadership has repeatedly indicated that the union will act in line with the mandate given by employees.  Let us hear what employees want to do. The companies call on AMCU and its members to uphold the law, and employees’ right to work should they choose to do so.”

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