South Africa’s gold mines have agreed a wage deal with unions as the majority of the gold sector’s striking miners returned to work under threat of dismissal.
Unions agreed the wage rise deal with mine bosses worth between 1.5 and 10.8 per cent for different categories of workers. There are also reports that some workers will see raises of up to 20 per cent in Thursday’s deal.
Harmony Gold, South Africa’s third-largest producer, said most of the 5,400 strikers at its Kusasalethu mine were now back at work. Strikes at Gold Fields’ three mines are also now over.
“Stability in the gold mining industry has been achieved at many of the operations and there are hopes that this trend will continue,” said Chamber of Mines executive Elize Strydom.
The returns marked some success for a new tough approach by mining firms. AngloGold Ashanti, South Africa’s biggest producer, said on Wednesday it had sacked around half of its 24,000-strong local workforce who had ignored an ultimatum to return to work or be fired.
Workers there, many of whom had been paid $500 a month, had been campaigning for a raise in their salaries. They withdrew their labour in a bid to secure monthly wages of between $1,400 and $2,100.
“We are mine workers and we are working in a dangerous job, and we earn nothing at the end of the month,” gold miner Maseti Masixole told Al Jazeera. “That is why we are on strike.”
Deal divides opinion
Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from Carletonville, northwest of Johannesburg, where many of the mine operations are based, said the deal “could end weeks of labour unrest”.
Miners remain divided over the agreement, she said.
“We’ve been told that up to 80 per cent of striking miners are now back at work,” she reported.
“But not at AngloGold Ashanti mine, where striking miners do seem to be divided. The majority do seem to be saying that they’re not going back to work, they don’t accept the wage deal that was signed earlier on Thursday.
“The minority are scared, they’re panicking, they say they do want to go back to work, afraid they could lose their jobs. They say they’ll try to clock in to work on Friday, but those who want to continue the strike say they’ll do whatever they can to stop them.”
On Tuesday, some 8,500 striking workers were fired at the nearby Goldfields KDC East mine.
At least 12,000 gold and 20,000 platinum miners are still pursuing a wave of unofficial strikes that have cost Africa’s largest economy over $1.14bn this year, according to the national treasury.
About 100,000 workers in all have downed tools across South Africa since August in a wave of violent strikes that have triggered downgrades of South Africa’s credit ratings, and awkward questions for President Jacob Zuma and the ruling ANC.
A six-week strike at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the world’s top producer of the precious metal, is no closer to ending, with 20,500 workers at its Union and Amandelbult operations still holding out for higher wages.
Amplats has also sacked 12,000 wildcat strikers at its Rustenburg mines. The decision proved controversial, with South Africa’s trade federation vowing to stage massive street protests in support of the fired miners.
Zuma has come in for particular criticism for not responding faster to the August 16 police killing of 34 strikers at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine, the bloodiest security incident since the end of white-minority rule in 1994.
Reluctant to take a hard line in the weeks immediately after the “Marikana massacre”, Amplats and gold firms led by Gold Fields have since got increasingly tough with the strikers.
Pravin Gordhan, the finance minister, cut South Africa’s GDP forecast for the year to 2.5 per cent from 2.7 per cent, and said it would take the government some time to determine the full impact of the mining strife on the country’s economic growth.
“Declining mining output and the spread of strike activity has depressed activity in related industries – including manufacturing, logistics and services, with negative consequences for GDP,” the treasury said in its interim budget policy statement.
In the year to August, mining output fell by 3.3 per cent, with production of platinum group metals 15.3 per cent lower, although strong iron ore demand from China helped offset some of the decline in the platinum, gold and coal sectors, it added.
Amplats on Thursday cut its full-year production target and capital expenditure plans after revealing that the walkouts had sliced 138,000 ounces off predicted output levels, worth $217m at today’s price.