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80,000 strike in South Africa's gold sector

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Wage disputes have spilled over into strikes in South Africa as 80,000 gold miners go on strike.

Unions have warned they are ready to strike until Christmas to guarantee better pay.

The gold sector workforce has 140,000 people, and the NUM stands for around 70,000 to 80,000 of them.

The National Union of Mineworkers are now asking for a 10 per cent pay rise, trimmed down from the 60 to 150 per cent hike for entry-level workers they were demanding earlier.

They were earlier calling for an additional R2300 ($224) a month for surface and open cast miners and R3, 000 for underground miners.

The strike comes this week as the NUM rejected the final pay rise proposal from the gold mining industry.

Seven gold mining firms proposed a pay rise of 6.5 per cent.

The Financial Times reports the strikes have impacted around two-thirds of production in the country’s gold sector. A spokesperson for producers said the gold industry was running at 30 per cent volume.

Management said the industry, which is already feeling the brunt of burgeoning costs and lower prices, would be at peril if the strikes continue.

They predict they could lose about R349 million ($33.8 million) a day in revenue if the strike continues. They could also experience an economic loss of about R597 million a day.

Companies impacted include AngloGold, Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony Gold and Sibanye Gold.

But two smaller companies, Pan Africa Resources and Village Main Reef, have negotiated an almost eight per cent pay hike with the NUM.

The country president Jacob Zuma urged employees and unions to find a solution quickly.

A protracted strike going on as it is looking now is not helpful to the country, nor to the industry itself,” Zuma said.

“The strike hurts both sides; we can just appeal that they must find a solution.”

NUM’s rival, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, has not joined the strike.

They said they will strike on their own terms rather than joining the NUM strikes.

They are demanding entry-level underground employees should get R12,500 a month while surface workers should get R11,500 a month.

But union officials labelled the company’s proposal to raise the monthly wage by R300 as a “slave wage”.

“This R300 cannot even subsidise bread for 30 days, so how would you call that an increase?”  

Entry-level workers in the gold sector earn an average R5000 a month. This can go up to R10000 with benefits.

Analysts previously said a mining pact by the government would not prevent strikes or assuage wage negotiations.

Violence has been at the centre of wage negotiations with an NUM leader killed and another one injured in June.

Police shot and killed 34 protesting platinum miners in one day in South Africa last year. 

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