South African gold miners ease some wage demands as strike slams troubled industry – by Geoffrey York (Globe and Mail – September 4, 2013)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

JOHANNESBURG — The vast majority of South Africa’s biggest gold mines have been severely affected by a national strike that began on Tuesday night by nearly 80,000 mine workers.

Of the 23 gold mines targeted by the strike, 17 have been forced to halt operations or have less than half of their workers on duty, according to reports on Wednesday as the strike entered its second day.

There was a glimmer of hope on Wednesday as the leading mine worker union reportedly offered to compromise by cutting its wage demands below its original call for a 60 per cent wage increase, although the details of its new demand were unclear. The seven gold mining companies – including AngloGold Ashanti and Harmony Gold – have insisted that they cannot offer anything more than a 6.5-per-cent wage increase.

The strike, expected to cost the South African economy about $60-million a day, has dealt another blow to a beleaguered industry that already suffers from rising costs and shrinking production. Some analysts predict that it could become the costliest strike in the country’s history. With the two sides far apart, a lockout is also possible.

South Africa’s gold industry, by far the biggest in the world in the 1970s, has slipped to fifth place in the list of global gold producers in recent years. The latest strike could further hurt its image among foreign investors, while inflicting heavy damage on the national economy. Direct losses in output by the mining companies are expected to be about $35-million a day.

The strike is led by the National Union of Mineworkers, which represents nearly two-thirds of the 120,000 mine workers in the South African gold industry.

The wage offer of 6.5 per cent by the gold companies would amount to “slave wages,” the union said. It warned that the strike could continue until Christmas. And it vowed that the strike “will change the gold-mining landscape forever.”

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