Johannesburg, South Africa — 26 October 2012 – South Africa’s top gold mining companies have agreed on a wage deal with the country’s trade unions as the bulk of the gold sector’s striking miners returned to work under the threat of dismissal.
Reuters reports that the return of the workers marked some success for a new tough approach by mining firms, but at least 12,000 gold and 20,000 platinum miners were still pursuing a wave of illegal strikes that have cost Africa’s largest economy over R10 billion this year, according to the National Treasury.
About 100,000 workers in all have downed tools across South Africa since August in the often violent strikes that have triggered downgrades of South Africa’s credit ratings, and awkward questions about government performance for President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
After three weeks of negotiations, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the gold industry, which employs around 157,000 miners, announced agreement on wage increases of between 1.5 and 10.8% for different categories of mine workers.
The deal is seen as a wage sweetener and comes as several mining companies have played hard-ball by sacking workers for illegal strikes.
Harmony Gold, South Africa’s third-largest producer, said most of its 5,400 employees who were threatened with dismissal at its Kusasalethu mine were now back at work.
Strikes were also now over at two of Gold Fields’ three mines, where workers faced threats of being sacked.
“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.
But AngloGold Ashanti, South Africa’s biggest producer, said it had sacked around half of its 24,000-strong local workforce who had ignored an ultimatum to return to work or be fired.
AngloGold spokesman Alan Fine said the company was optimistic the dismissed workers would return to work after they had appealed their dismissals.
Mining firms have usually taken back most fired workers because it is more costly to train a new workforce. Analysts say this round of strikes will lead to some permanent job losses with firms shutting down marginal shafts.
Despite the return to work movement at other mines, a six-week strike at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the world’s top producer of the metal, is no closer to ending.
Some 20,500 workers at its Union and Amandelbult operations are still holding out for higher wages. Amplats has also sacked 12,000 wildcat strikers at its Rustenburg mines.
Yesterday, Amplats cut its full-year production target and capital expenditure plans after revealing that the walkouts had sliced 138,000oz off output “’ that’s worth about US$217 million at today’s price.