South Africa's No. 2 Gold Miners' Union Plans Strike

  • Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union holds rally
  • Union members vote to strike across South Africa gold sector

The second-biggest union for South Africa’s gold-mining industry, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, is ready to strike for higher wages, the group indicated at a mass meeting Sunday.

“Today all the members of AMCU have agreed overwhelmingly that we are prepared to go on a protected strike in pursuit of the living wage” at AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., Harmony Gold Mining Co Ltd. and Sibanye Gold Ltd., President Joseph Mathunjwa told reporters after a rally near Johannesburg Sunday. He said that the timing of any action hadn’t been decided. “You need to prepare for a strike.”

The National Union of Mineworkers, UASA and Solidarity signed a three-year agreement Oct. 2 with AngloGold and Harmony, where the NUM represents the majority of employees. The AMCU refused. Sibanye, the top producer of South African bullion, has required all four unions agree to a deal for it to take effect. There is no majority labor group at Sibanye, so a strike by the AMCU would be protected, meaning miners wouldn’t lose their jobs by taking part.

The companies have sought to avoid a repeat of last year’s five-month strike at platinum mines that crippled output, stifled economic growth and led to job losses. Gold has fallen 39 percent from a June 2011 peak, and the largest producers in South Africa, whose mines are the deepest and among the oldest in the world, are losing money on about 35 percent of production at current prices.

Thousands of AMCU members at the stadium voted in favor of the labor action by a show of hands. Sibanye is willing to continue negotiations with the union, Mathunjwa said.

“Employees are starting to receive their increased salaries and back pay” following the agreement, Charmane Russell, a spokeswoman for the companies, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “Should the union indicate its intention to proceed with industrial action, an interdict will be sought to have the strike declared unprotected.”

The producers believe a settlement can still be reached, and that most employees don’t want to strike, Russell said. "The principle of no work, no pay will apply."

Strike Risk

The AMCU, which led the longest strike in South Africa’s mining history at platinum producers last year, has demanded wages of 12,500 rand ($936) a month for entry-level workers. That would be more than double current pay. Gold producers have limited their offers, citing escalating production costs and declining prices that are hurting profits. South Africa’s inflation rate was 4.6 percent in August.

In his speech to workers, Mathunjwa warned that a strike could fragment the union if it occurred before the December holidays, when workers traditionally return to their home provinces.

“If we would strike now, we would be divided. Because others will complain that if it’s December, they have to go home. Others will say they have to budget to pay for their children’s school uniform," he said. 

(An earlier version of this story corrected the spelling of Sibanye in the second paragraph.)

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