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Mining: South African unions declare wage war

By Crystal van Vyk
Posted on Thursday, 25 July 2013 08:11

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Solidarity and UASA on Wednesday announced that they had declared a wage dispute with the Chamber of Mines.

The deadlock has been referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), the unions said.

[…] it would be the beginning of the end for South Africa’s gold mining as we know it

Charmane Russel, a spokesperson for the Chamber of Mines’ Charmane said the move “would give parties an opportunity to engage with a mediator for around a 30-day period”.

A fourth union involved in the negotiations, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union has requested additional information on the negotiations.

NUM said the “dispute comes amid the Chamber of Mines ‘s gold producers having further insulted mineworkers by putting a 1 percent increase, taking their offer to 5 percent”.

The union said the CCMA facilitation process “is one step away from a legal, protected strike action”.

“As far as we are concerned, negotiations have not yet begun” said Frans Baleni, the NUM General Secretary.

Baleni said: “it remains our intention to find an amicable solution but the gold producers are just not prepared, they are demanding a strike”.

The union said gold producers “failed to entertain all other worker demands whilst at the same time being unable to move significantly on basic wages”.

In a statement, Solidarity’s Gideon du Plessis said the union believed wage negotiations in the gold industry this year would gain momentum only if a facilitation process was followed.

AngloGold Ashanti, Evander Gold Mine, Gold Fields, Harmony Gold, Rand Uranium, Sibanye Gold, and Village Main Reef, proposed a four percent pay rise for workers in the opening round of negotiations.

NUM wants surface workers to earn a minimum of 7000 rand a month, and underground and open-cast workers 8000 rand a month.

“The effect of this offer would be to raise the guaranteed pay of entry-level underground employees for major gold-producing companies to at least 9000 rand per month,” Russell said.

Meanwhile, NUM members who have been protesting against the wage offer by employers have vowed to bring the Chamber of Mines down on its knees.

The union warned, “should the Chamber be unable to meet the union demands, it would be the beginning of the end for South Africa’s gold mining as we know it”.

Wage negotiations usually last two months but some say the current talks could be drawn out because of the challenges facing the sector

In a radio interview earlier this week, Gold Fields chief executive Nick Holland said South Africa’s gold industry in now produces about 167 tonnes of gold a year.

He said he would see “a distinct possibility of that declining by another third.”

“And that will have a concomitant on jobs as well,” he said.

Mining remains the backbone of the South African economy.

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