WESTONARIA, SOUTH AFRICA – The newly elected head of South Africa’s biggest mine union said on Sunday that his members were still being paid “apartheid” wages, signaling a hard line ahead of gold sector wage talks due to start on Monday.
David Sipunzi, formerly a regional leader from the gold-producing Free State province, was elected general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) earlier this month, replacing veteran Frans Baleni.
The leadership shake up has come just ahead of what are expected to be tough negotiations in South Africa’s ailing gold sector, which is grappling with depressed prices, falling production and rising costs.
Speaking to Reuters ahead of a rally in the mining town of Westonaria west of Johannesburg, Sipunzi defended NUM’s demand for wage hikes of around 80 percent for its lowest-paid members, who make between 5,000 rand ($410) and 6,000 rand monthly.
“We expect them to meet our demands. Eighty percent of just over 5,000 rand is not too much. The CEOs are raking in millions. But the indications are that they are going to plead poverty,” he said.
“Nothing has changed. We are still being paid under the apartheid wage structure,” he said, referring to the fact that lower-paid miners were overwhelmingly black and often drawn from rural areas far from the shafts – a system that has prevailed for decades.
Sipunzi poured cold water on an industry initiative that has seen it propose “an economic and social” pact as part of the wage talks. Labor’s response has been frosty.
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