/ 29 July 2011

Gold strike to cost R25m a day: Can we talk about this?

South African gold mine workers and the country’s main producers were to meet on Friday for wage talks in a bid to end a strike that could halt output worth up to $25-million a day at a time when the price of bullion is near record highs.

About 100 000 workers at AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony Gold and another smaller mining group downed tools on Thursday, demanding wage hikes of 14% against offers of 7% to 9%.

The country’s annual “strike season” is in full swing with unions demanding 10% to 15% pay rises, well above inflation of 5%. The strikes have hit chemicals, coal and diamond mining with worries about economic damage increasing the longer they last.

Mining stocks have taken a beating this week in the world’s top platinum producer, which is also a major gold and coal exporter.

Labour strife has ended on one front. Petroleum workers accepted a deal that ended an almost three-week strike in the industry which had slowed commerce and caused panic buying at the pumps in Africa’s largest economy.

A strike in the country’s coal fields was entering its fifth full day with no immediate end in sight, but talks on Thursday produced some progress.

“The talks in the collieries remain inconclusive. We have said we need more time to talk to our members,” spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka of the National Union of Mineworkers told Reuters.

“They have revised their wage offer, which I cannot disclose at this point in time. It is a matter of us hearing what our members have to say,” he said.

The Chamber of Mines is negotiating on behalf of the coal companies which include Anglo Thermal Coal SA, Delmas Coal, Exxaro, Kangra Coal, Optimum Coal and Xstrata Coal.

There is little political will to rein in unions. The African National Congress is in a governing alliance with the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which has supplied it with millions of votes.

At Emalahleni, 100km east of Johannesburg, thousands of striking coal workers vented their anger near an Anglo American operation.

“I’ve worked 38 years for this company and I still get only R3 700 a month. How am I supposed to survive with that? And my family?” said Joseph (55). – Reuters