NUM denies dropping wage increase demand to 10%

NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka. (Oupa Nkosi)

NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka. (Oupa Nkosi)

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on Wednesday denied reports that dropped its wage increase demand to 10%.

"We are still at a [wage] increase of R2 300 for surface miners, and R3 000 for underground miners," NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said.

Surface workers currently earn R4 700 per month and underground workers earn R5 000.

This equates to a 49% wage increase for surface workers and a 60% wage increase for underground workers.

Seshoka said the NUM, which has the highest number of gold industry workers as members, submitted the above figures to employers, and not a percentage.

'Overwhelming' response
Seshoka added that support for a gold mining strike that started on Tuesday evening was "overwhelming".

"There has been an overwhelming response to the strike ... The strike will carry on indefinitely until our demands are met."

Employers in the gold mining industry were issued with a strike notice by the NUM on Friday and thousands of miners went on strike on Tuesday after wage talks broke down, threatening to cause millions of dollars in lost output in the troubled sector.

The union rejected the final pay offer made by the Chamber of Mines.

Gold mining companies, represented by the chamber, offered a basic increase of 6.5% for category four and five employees, including rock drill operators.

An offer of 6% on the basic wage was made to category six to eight, as well as to miners, artisans, and officials.

In addition, accommodation allowances would be increased in accordance with the consumer price index.

Strike numbers
The gold mining companies are AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Rand Uranium, Harmony Gold, Evander Gold, Sibanye Gold, and Village Main Reef.

Mbuyiseli Hibana, NUM regional secretary general, told Agence France-Presse on Tuesday that an estimated 14 000 miners downed tools in Carletonville, south of Johannesburg.

Mines in the area had heightened security on Tuesday, with armed private guards manning the gates. Barbed wire was thrown around the main entrance of one of AngloGold Ashanti's mines.

The gold sector stands to lose 761kgs in production each day, worth around $340-million, gold industry spokesperson Charmane Russell said on Tuesday.

The night shift at all but one of the seven affected producers – which include Harmony, AngloGold Ashanti, and Sibanye Gold – were hit by the strike.

Only six of 23 mines reported a normal shift and less than 20% of workers showed up at 12 "severely affected" mines, according to an update late on Tuesday.

The strike shut down production at two mines, while an underground fire had temporarily halted operations at another.

According to the producers, the rejected final offer involves 107 000 workers of different categories, of which the NUM represented 63%.

No exact attendance figures were given but between 10% and 12% of workers were said to work the night shift.

The NUM claims membership of around 80 000 in the industry which, in 2012, employed just over 140 000 workers.

"We will go until Christmas," Seshoka said earlier on Tuesday.

'Normal and reasonable'
Gold workers are demanding wage increases of between 60% and 100%, 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," said Seshoka.

"If there are bosses that sit in air-conditioned offices earning millions a year, why can't they [miners] earn R7 000 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.

Vehicle export figures for August fell 22.9%, linked to the strike at seven major car makers now in its third week.

The stoppages have become a frequent occurrence during annual wage negotiations, but this year they come amid sluggish growth and rampant unemployment.

Falling prices
South Africa was for decades the world's largest gold producer, but its share of production has shrunk from 68% in 1970 to 6% of the world total last year.

Falling gold prices, a declining grade of ore and some of the world's deepest mines are all factors that have constrained gold firms' profits.

In part because of strikes, gold production last year fell by 12.4% to 167.2 tonnes – its lowest level in over a century – and cost the economy half a billion dollars.

But workers insist their dramatic pay demands are justified after a history of cheap black labour built the continent's most sophisticated economy.

But as rival unions inflate wage demands in competition for members, labour leaders have been warned against creating unrealistic expectations.

The industry's latest offer guarantees average pay of R9,170 rand a month and profit-sharing schemes.

The offer did not "talk to us as mine workers, concerning the kind of work we are doing underground", said Vuyo Mnqandi, a worker at AngloGold's TauTona mine.

If the downward spiral continues, the gold sector may employ only 60 000 people by 2020, according to the Chamber of Mines. – Sapa, AFP