The gold employers - who maintian the cupboard is bare - will have to dig deep for a counter offer this week if they are to avoid a dispute that could lead to an expensive strike.
Unions representing 93,000 South African gold mining workers Monday rejected the opening pay offer from the employers.
Gold mining companies including Anglo gold Ashanti Harmony and Sibanye made a pay offers last week of between 7.8 per cent and 12.96 per cent.
AMCU Solidarity and UASA rejected the offer Monday. The National Union of Mineworkers said at the talks in Boksburg 30 km east of Johannesburg that it was to reject the offer later in the day. AMCU and the employers refused to talk until the day's talks were done.
"Our demands were coempletely wiped off the table and if we have to have a show of strength and power before we are listened to then so be it," says Gideon du Plessis of Solidarity ,which has 4000 members represented in the talks and was the first union to reject.
Union officials inside the negotiating chamber say AMCU stole the show in its presentation in rejecting the offer. It put up slides with the salaries of the top earning mining bosses. Some of them are earning up to 1.7 million US dollars a year - under these figures AMCU put the earnings of its members.
The presentation raised a smile among many of the negotiating union officials but not all were impressed.
"How can you compare the head of Gold Fields with a man who carries a shovel?," one UASA official said on the way out of the talks.
The talks, in their third round , will run through Tuesday and Wednesday and the ball is now in the emplloyers'court.
Chris Bishop is the managing editor for Forbes Africa magazine.