Johannesburg - A five-month strike against the world's biggest platinum producers is over, union leaders said on Monday, ending a stoppage that has battered South Africa's economy.
Exactly five months to the day after the strike began, Amcu leader Joseph Mathunjwa told a cheering mass rally: “Tomorrow we are signing the agreement, which will mean that the strike is officially over.”
“This means workers will report back to work on Wednesday,” he said.
Mathunjwa had put the platinum producers' latest proposals to the rally of 30 000 miners, saying: “By agreeing to the wage proposal you are giving us power to go and sign.”
The workers, who have been without wages for five months, shouted “sign, sign, sign”.
The jubilant members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) had packed a stadium near the northwestern town of Rustenburg, apparently eager to see an end to the stoppage.
“This is victory for our colleagues who lost their lives in 2012,” said mineworker Chris Pokane, referring to the killing of 34 striking miners by police at a Marikana mine during a wildcat strike.
“I'm happy, it's good news for everybody. Now we are ready to return to work to make money for our companies and our families.”
Fellow miner Benjamin Sotu also felt the union had won, although many analysts say the wage increase will not recover the income lost during the strike.
“We stood our ground and it paid off. We never believed it when companies said they had no money... where has the money come from now?
“Mineworkers in this country are exploited, but we managed to make ourselves heard,” he said.
The stadium erupted into singing and jubilation as the meeting broke up, with passing cars signalling their support with blaring hooters.
The union had a week ago agreed in principle with the world's top platinum miners - Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin - to call off the work stoppage.
They then made fresh demands that threatened to scupper the deal, but that appeared to have been sorted out by Monday.
Mathunjwa said “companies agreed to the bulk of our demands”, although “it has not been easy”.
He acknowledged that not all workers would obtain their wage demand of R12 500 a month in three years, but added that “many will easily reach it” within this period.
The increases offered by the three companies differ according to various worker categories.
Mathunjwa said the lowest paid worker at Impala Platinum at will get an increase of R1 000 a month in the first and second year and then R950 for the third year.
The current minimum wage stands at R5 500.
He said Lonmin agreed to another demand for the reinstatement of 236 workers who were fired for joining the strike.
There was no immediate reaction from the producers, who said earlier that “further progress towards a return to work has been made” but gave no details, simply stating they were expecting to receive feedback from Amcu after the meeting.
The stoppage began on January 23, when more than 70 000 workers downed tools to demand higher wages and benefits.
It has hit platinum production in the world's top exporting country, with companies reporting a combined loss of R23.8 billion in earnings.
The strike helped push the country's economy into contraction in the first quarter of this year for the first time since the global economic crisis five years ago.
South Africa holds around 80 percent of the world's known platinum reserves, but stockpiles have so far kept the markets supplied with the metal key for producing catalytic converters used to reduce auto pollution.
Meanwhile, the country's labour court has declared unlawful a planned gold mining strike by the same union Amcu, gold producers said on Monday.