South Africa’s gold mineworkers have announced they will embark on a sector-wide strike after the collapse of wage talks, prompting fears of more turbulence ahead for Africa’s largest economy.
Unions representing South African goldminers have given employers a 48-hour notice of a strike, mining companies said on Friday.
The Chamber of Mines said the walkout by 120,000 miners is expected to begin on Tuesday.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said about 70 percent of gold mine employees will strike.
Negotiations broke down last week, with the unions and companies still poles apart over pay.
The Chamber of Mines, which negotiates on behalf of the companies, said it made a final offer to increase basic wages by six to 6.5 percent.
The NUM is seeking 60 percent, and rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) wants as much as 150 percent. The companies say those demands are unrealistic, given rising costs and falling bullion, or gold or silver valued by weight, prices.
In a sign of the industry’s frustration over the deepening crisis, Chamber of Mines president Mark Cutifani choked back tears on Thursday as he made an emotional appeal for an end to the violence and rounded on “thugs and murderers” he accused of stoking the unrest.
Culture of low pay
The unions seem determined to end what they see as a culture of low pay dating back to the apartheid era when impoverished black miners migrated to the industry’s heartlands for jobs to feed their families back home.
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White rule ended in 1994 and the unions say miners who risk their health toiling far below ground are due a bigger share of the spoils from a multi-billion-dollar industry.
But capital may have the edge over labour.
The companies have abundant cash and other resources, while most mine workers must feed several dependants and cannot go long without pay.
Wildcat strikes have shaken the industry since early last year, coupled with outbreaks of violence linked to a turf war between the NUM and the hardline AMCU.
The mining crisis has triggered damaging credit rating downgrades for Africa’s largest economy and criticism of President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African National Congress over their handling of the violence that left dozens dead.