Tens of thousands of gold miners are set to go on strike today after wage talks broke down, threatening to cost millions of dollars in lost output in the troubled sector.
Powerful labor group the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) — which represents the bulk of 120,000 workers affected — called for stoppages following its members’ rejection of a 6.5 percent wage hike last week.
NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka early yesterday said that the strike would start on the 6pm shift.
“We will go until Christmas,” he told reporters.
The gold sector stands to lose 761kg in production each day, worth about US$34 million, gold industry spokeswoman Charmane Russell told reporters.
Gold workers are demanding wage increases of between 60 and 100 percent, denouncing company executives’ high salaries while workers live in poverty in a country with one of the world’s biggest wealth gaps.
“The pay that we are asking for is not high. It is normal and reasonable,” Seshoka said. “If there are bosses that sit in air-conditioned offices earning millions a year, why can’t miners earn 7,000 rand [US$700] basic a month?”
The strikes will add to the pressure building on Africa’s largest economy, where at least 75,000 workers in the construction and automobile industries have downed tools since last week.
“Our most important industry is in crisis and we have not yet found how to stem the tide of destruction,” Anglo American chief executive Mark Cutifani wrote in an opinion article in the Business Day newspaper.
South Africa was for decades the world’s largest gold producer, but its share of production has shrunk from 68 percent in 1970 to 6 percent of the world total last year.
However, workers say their dramatic pay demands are justified after a history of cheap black labor built the continent’s most sophisticated economy.
Meanwhile, South African Minister of Mining Susan Shabangu yesterday said the government is ready to intervene to bring parties together.
“If indeed we are going to have a protracted industrial action, it will impact negatively on the economy,” Shabangu told Reuters at a presidential briefing in Pretoria.
“If there is a need for government to intervene, we will engage the parties,” she said.
“We are urging them to consider the current situation,” she said.
Additional reporting by Reuters