* Essential services workers not allowed to strike
* Workers defied court order to return to work (Recasts with Lonmin comments)
JOHANNESBURG, May 20 (Reuters) - South African platinum miner Lonmin has dismissed 235 essential services workers who were on an unsanctioned strike and defied a court order to return to their jobs, it said on Tuesday.
Lonmin said the workers in areas such as safety and underground maintenance were fired last week after starting a strike on Jan. 23, when members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) also went on strike demanding higher wages.
Under an agreement with AMCU, essential service workers are not allowed to strike. Lonmin obtained a court order in February for the workers to return to work by May 12, which was defied.
“The recent intimidation does not explain their absence,” a Lonmin spokesman said, referring to industry accusations that AMCU strikers have prevented other employees from going to work.
On Monday, Lonmin said it had lost a third of its annual production due in the industry strike, which its chief executive described as a “bleeding” that might lead to the firm’s death if not stopped in time.
The strike has also hit the South African operations of Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum, taking out 40 percent of global production of the precious metal used for emissions-capping catalytic converters in automobiles.
AMCU had initially demanded an immediate increase to 12,500 rand in the basic wage, excluding allowances, but softened that in March to staggered increases that would amount to 12,500 rand ($1,200) within three or four years - still a third more than what the companies are offering in basic salaries.
The companies have been taking their latest wage offer directly to the strikers since talks with the union collapsed in late April, but AMCU has applied to the Labour Court for an order to stop the companies from sidestepping it.
The court was due to hear the case on Tuesday.
$1 = 10.3508 South African Rand Reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo in Johannesburg and Silvia Antonioli in London; Editing by Mark Potter