Polite greetings between unions and employers belie the bad tempered pay talks upon which the future of Africa’s biggest mining industry could be decided.
There were smiles and handshakes between employers and unions in the bright winter sunshine outside the Birchwood Conference in Boksburg to the east of Johannesburg. These polite greetings belie the fractious and bad tempered pay talks, expected over the next few months, upon which the future of Africa’s biggest mining industry could be decided. Before a word was spoken, there was dispute over representation.
(READ MORE: Mining unions to snap olive branch from employers)
Unions representing more than 93,000 gold miners will sit down with employers from AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony, Sibanye, Evander Gold and Village Main Reef to hammer out a new three year pay deal to run from 1 July. Just four years ago, negotiators for the employers were stunned when the NUM asked for an unprecedented 20%. This year, the NUM will ask for an increase of 80% in entry level pay and AMCU wants to more than double entry level pay to R12,500 (about $1000) a month. The NUM is the majority union in the talks, according to the Chamber of Mines, representing with 54% of the miners and AMCU has 29%.
Before talks began in Boksburg, AMCU disputed these figures claiming it has stop orders to prove it has thousands more members in the gold industry.
“We have 10,000 more and have the stop orders to prove it and we have approached the Chamber of Mines over this,” said Manzini Zungu, the spokesman for AMCU.
Chief negotiator for the employers, Elize Strydom said, “We have spoken to AMCU about having an extra 10,000 members and if they can present us with proof we can rectify the figures.”
The employers will plead poverty in these talks and warn of a threat to the future of the industry in South Africa. The Chamber of Mines said employment in the gold mines has dropped from 180,000 to around 120,000 in the last 10 years.
“It is time for all of us, as leaders in this industry, to negotiate and work together to save this industry,” said Strydom.
In this, the employers are pinning their hopes on a so-called social compact a package of welfare benefits and training to mollify the unions before a pay offer is made. The package, presented to unions last week, has gone down like a lead balloon with both AMCU and the NUM.
“This is just a ploy to confuse these negotiations and as far as I am concerned it is unacceptable,” said the new General Secretary of the NUM, David Sipunzi.
Negotiators expect the talks to continue into September. Unions at Boksburg, say privately, they don’t expect them to avoid a strike.