/ 10 October 2012

Gold mine owners, unions reach pay deal

Gold mine owners and unions representing striking workers say they have reached a deal aimed at ending months of industrial unrest.
Gold mine owners and unions representing striking workers say they have reached a deal aimed at ending months of industrial unrest.

Negotiators for the Chamber of Mines and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) agreed to a series of pay rises that will be put to striking workers for approval beginning on Wednesday.

"We think it is a very good settlement and we are hopeful that the NUM will get the striking members back to work," said Sven Lunsche a spokesperson for Gold Fields, one the strike-hit firms that was party to the agreement.

The deal, if ratified, would see a pay increase for entry-level workers, and an "allowance" for rock drill and the creation of new pay scales.

As part of the agreement there will also be a commission of inquiry into working and living conditions at the mines.

Months of often violent strikes have strangled production in South Africa, which accounts for around seven percent of global production.

"It is critical that all the parties show leadership in restoring stability to the mining industry and bringing an end to the unprotected industrial action that is besetting the industry," said Elize Strydom, a chamber negotiator.

"This is important not only for the companies, the unions and the mine workers, but also for the economic and social well-being of the country as a whole."

Entry-level workers given a bump
In a face-saving measure – designed to avoid a precedent – the parties insisted the current two-year wage deal was not renegotiated.

Instead, the agreement casts aside existing low-pay categories, automatically giving entry-level workers a bump.

"When you talk about moving a miner from grade three to four this is an increase. They have agreed to increase wages in line with the current wages agreement," NUM said.

Earlier the chamber said "it has recognised that there are certain anomalies that need to be addressed and has made proposals to address these."

But it is far from certain that the agreement will end months of rolling strikes.

The unrest has been marked by workers' rejection NUM leadership and the centralised bargaining process that has defined the sector for years.

Convincing workers to accept the deal will be a major test of NUM leaders' credibility.

Remaining on strike
As of Wednesday morning, tens of thousands of gold workers remained on strike.

Company representatives at AngloGold Ashanti said 24 000 workers at all of its six mines in South Africa were still away from work.

And while the agreement covers a majority of gold mines, but some remain outside the centralised agreement, including smaller firms like Gold One.

The Chinese-backed firm sacked 1 435 people – more than 75% of its workforce – at a gold and uranium mine near Johannesburg on Tuesday.

The deal is also unlikely stop unrest in the equally economically vital platinum sector, which sees wage contracts negotiated company-by-company.

It was unrest at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana that result in the deaths of at least 46 people in the most violent clashes of this spate of labour tumult.

Mining powerhouse Anglo American announced it had sacked 12 000 workers at its platinum mine in Rustenburg in the north of the country. – Sapa-AFP