106 workers fired over wildcat in South Africa

Xstrata Elandsfontein platinum mine in South Africa.

The world's largest ferrochrome producer, Xstrata said on Wednesday it had dismissed 106 workers at its Rustenburg smelter in South Africa for taking part in an illegal strike over pay.

The workers had demanded to be paid 50 percent of their wages as well as shift allowances during their extended leave in December, when such payments are normally not due to them, Songezo Zibi, Xstrata's spokesman said.

"They took part in a wildcat strike, an unprotected strike and did not follow the process of calling a strike," Zibi said.

The Rustenburg smelter has a total of 800 workers, he said.

Zibi said Xstrata had sent the workers on the long leave due to a drop in demand for ferrochrome, requiring big cutbacks in output and the closure of its furnaces. Xstrata's rivals in South Africa have also cut back drastically on production.

South Africa's National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said it would protest the sacking of the workers and would ask Xstrata to re-hire them and call a strike to force the issue.

"We are going to dispute the sackings and go on strike until sense prevails and the workers are hired back," Lesiba Seshoka, spokesman for the NUM told Reuters.

Seshoka said the workers had alleged they were sacked for not taking part in a company programme meant to address HIV/AIDS at the workplace. He said the workers said they were dismissed for not taking part in a compulsory health briefing in which they said they were to be told they would have to take an HIV test.

South African law says no worker can be forced to take an HIV test.

Zibi denied the worker's claims, saying the company had no intentions to force the workers to take the test. He said the workers went on strike during a meeting called to discuss HIV/AIDS, and demanded the December backpay.