Johannesburg, Sep 4 — Over 80,000 workers in the gold mining sector in South Africa have gone on strike demanding a 60 percent salary increase, union officials announced.
Lesiba Seshoka, spokesman of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), said the workers resolved to take industrial action beginning Tuesday night following what he described as “the arrogance of the employer”, Xinhua reported.
The NUM, which organized the strike, is demanding an increase of 2,300 rands (about $230) for surface and opencast miners and 3,000 rands (about $300) for underground miners.
A rival union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), is also seeking a 150 percent increase for its members in the gold mining sector.
The South African Chamber of Mines, which represents the country’s mining companies, offered a 6.5 percent salary rise. The chamber argued that the salary increase demanded by the workers will lead to job losses.
However, Seshoka brushed aside the chamber’s claim, saying the salary demands of the workers are reasonable and that the mines can afford them.
“As far as we are concerned we believe mineworkers deserve far more than what they have been offered,” the spokesman said.
Kevin Lings, an economist from consulting firm Stanlib, warned that protracted strikes will dent the country’s economic growth. He said something should be done urgently to bring stability in the labour environment.
“It is very difficult for business to move forward, when you have got this much labour unrest, whether it’s mining or manufacturing, it is usually disruptive to business to have this much labour unrest, and obviously we need to implement policy more effectively from a government perspective, into next year, in terms of infrastructure development,” Lings said.
The NUM estimated that the strike could cost up to $34 million in the gold sector a day. The strike is the latest in a series sweeping the auto, construction, energy and transport sectors in South Africa.
The strike in the auto industry has entered its third week with analysts estimating that it is costing the economy close to $68 million a day. The construction workers’ strike and that of the South African Airways employees have entered their second week with no solution in sight.
More than 70, 000 petrol attendants have also threatened walkout if current salary increase negotiations reach a deadlock.
The government has urged the employers and the employees to find a solution soon.