South Africa’s Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) voted on Sunday to strike at the operations of AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold and Sibanye Gold.
“The whole gold sector has voted for a strike,” AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa said after a crowd of about 5,000 miners voted by a show of hands.
AMCU, which lead a bruising five-month strike last year in the platinum sector, is known for its uncompromising stance, and has not backed down from its original demand for a more than doubling of basic wages to 12,500 rand a month.
South Africa’s gold producers, who are grappling with depressed prices and soaring costs, say they can ill afford such demands – even Sibanye, which is the most profitable gold bullion producer in the country.
The vote will not lead to an immediate stoppage.
“If you look at the platinum strike we didn’t go on strike when we got the strike certificate. We have to use our heads, and not our stomachs,” Mathunjwa said. “That has to be taken to structures of AMCU.”
Only at Sibanye does the AMCU have a clear path to a strike that would not be deemed wildcat.
The Chamber of Mines has said Harmony and AngloGold will go to court to prevent AMCU from striking because they have signed wage deals with three other unions representing most of their workers.
The industry says this means they can apply the same agreement to the rest of their workforce. This happened two years ago in the gold sector, when AMCU was forced to accept agreements signed by other unions.
Sibanye’s situation is different: it will only sign an agreement if all four of the unions represented at its operations accept it.
Even if Sibanye wanted to, it could not impose an agreement on AMCU because the other three unions combined do not represent a majority of its workers.