Wage talks aim to end S.Africa gold, coal strikes

JOHANNESBURG Sun Jul 31, 2011 6:03pm EDT

JOHANNESBURG Aug 1 (Reuters) - Striking South African coal and gold miners will meet the Chamber of Mines in separate talks on Monday in a bid to end stoppages that have cost Africa's largest economy tens of millions of dollars in lost output.

Coal workers have been off for a week while some 100,000 gold miners downed tools on Thursday, halting operations at AngloGold Ashanti , Gold Fields and Harmony Gold at a time when bullion is at record highs.

Gold's run has been driven by its safe-haven status amid the debt crises in Europe and America but analysts have said a prolonged strike in South Africa, the fourth-largest producer of the precious metal, could also support its price.

On the domestic markets front, the Johannesburg bourse's gold index shed 5.4 percent last week on investor concerns about lost output even as the commodity rallied.

But South Africa's rand and bond markets have shrugged off the strikes, which have also hit the country's fuel, chemical and diamond sectors, and the gains they have achieved could be extended this week on the gold price and technical factors.

The annual "strike season" is in full swing, with unions demanding 10-15 percent pay rises, well above inflation of 5 percent. A fuel strike that caused panic buying at the pumps ended last week, but when workers go back to their jobs in one industry, labour strife flares in another.

DIFFICULT POSITION

The strikes highlight the difficult position of the ruling African National Congress, which is keen to attract foreign investment but is in a governing alliance with organised labour.

Monday's talks were due to start at 0800 GMT. Negotiators have narrowed the gap on the gold front, raising hopes of more progress, though neither side is predicting a breakthrough.

"They have put something on the table and we are looking at that and consulting with our members and will come back on Monday to see if there can be some improvements in their offer," Frans Baleni, General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), told Reuters.

The NUM had sought a 14 percent pay rise and the gold mine companies had offered rises of 7 to 9 percent.

A new round of talks will also seek to send the coal miners' strike. Analysts have said if it persists for at least another week exports to Asia and Europe could be disrupted.

Another concern is supply to utility Eskom, which provides almost all of South Africa's power and almost exclusively runs on coal. But it has said it has around five weeks of stocks. Coal firms affected include Anglo Thermal Coal SA , Exxaro , Optimum Coal and Xstrata Coal .

Markets on Monday will also be watching wage talks between unions and Impala Platinum , the world's second largest producer of the precious metal. (Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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