By Peter Jones
KINSHASA (Reuters) - Workers at the Democratic Republic of Congo’s state mining company could end a week-long strike over unpaid wages by Wednesday, when they expect to reach a deal with the company, a union official said on Friday.
Employees at Gecamines in the southeastern Katanga province stopped work on Monday, complaining wages had not been paid for three months. The strike has interrupted production, undermining the firm's efforts to relaunch itself as an independent player in copper production. [ID:nL5N0OY3UC]
Workers in one of three main Gecamines mining hubs in Kolwezi in Katanga province, had begun returning to their posts on Friday to prevent the looting of plants left empty during the strike, a union official said.
"We have made our case to the company and they have understood," a union delegation leader, Jackie Makong, told Reuters by telephone from Katanga.
"I think they will give us one month's salary now, and then we will work out the rest. We will have a solution by Wednesday."
Franck Nkori Bokango, a spokesman for Gecamines, fully owned by the Congolese state, said he did not have details on the talks but added that he expected an announcement on an agreement with the union early next week.
It was not immediately clear how much output had been lost during the strike.
"Kolwezi is an important link in the Gecamines production chain," said Makong. "We have an important concentrator (there), so the strike disrupted the production chain. But now that our workers are returning we can start producing again."
In its heyday in the 1980s Gecamines produced nearly 500,000 tonnes of copper. Years of neglect saw output plummet and the firm said it produced just 35,000 tonnes in 2012.
The company plans to increase production to around 100,000 tonnes per year by 2016 but has struggled to secure financing for new projects.