Johannesburg - A strike in the gold mining industry by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was expected to start last night as the union asserted itself as still a force to be reckoned with.
The backdrop to this strike – in which NUM is calling out its 80 000 members in the sector – is the events of Marikana last year, after which the union started losing membership en masse. It is flexing its muscles, supposedly to recoup members it lost to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).
Gold producers have offered a 6.5 percent wage increase for category four and five employees, and 6 percent for category six to eight employees, as well as for so-called miners, artisans and officials.
Amcu, which represents 17 percent of gold miners at the pay talks, has not accepted the employers’ wage offer, but president Joseph Mathunjwa said yesterday that its members would report for duty.
“There’s still an avenue; we’re still open to negotiation,” Mathunjwa said.
The Chamber of Mines said trade union Uasa, which represents 6.9 percent of workers, had accepted the offer.
President Jacob Zuma urged parties yesterday to reach a wage agreement soon.
“We can just appeal that they must find a solution. Both sides must be ready to give and to take as well. The situation in the mining industry has not been good. To add powerful strikes I think is not going to be good,” Zuma told editors at a breakfast briefing in Pretoria.
Susan Shabangu, the Minister of Mineral Resources, told Reuters that a protracted strike in the gold mining industry would harm the economy and the government was ready to intervene to bring the parties together.
NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said the union was determined to pursue its demands for an increase of R2 300 for surface and opencast miners and R3 000 for underground miners.
He said NUM had noted the government’s wishes that industrial action be avoided and it “dares the state to explain which side it is on”.
He said the union rejected with contempt “slave wages as represented by an increase of a meagre 6.5 percent, or R300”.
The Chamber of Mines said talks had continued with the unions, but it was still anticipating a strike by NUM.
“We do believe there will be some operations which are expected to continue,” it said.
The chamber said a lockout was one possibility, although it would be used as a last option.
Irvin Lawrence, a director at law firm Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs, said lockouts were aimed at keeping strikers out of the business premises to limit sabotage.
“The employer can use it to up the ante so that the strikers accept the wage offer. It can also be used in anticipation of a strike, but then the employer cannot use replacement labour,” he said.
l Meanwhile, casual workers at mail processing centres in some parts of Gauteng had gone on strike, the SA Post Office said yesterday.
The industrial action “is part of their lobbying campaign to be appointed into permanent part-time positions”, the Post Office said. It expected a resolution “very soon”. - Business Report