| JOHANNESBURG, April 29
JOHANNESBURG, April 29 South Africa's National
Union of Mineworkers, which has lost tens of thousands of
members in the past year to a militant rival, will demand
double-digit pay hikes in wage talks this year that companies
have said they can ill afford.
Wage talks across South Africa's mining sector begin in May
and could be among the toughest ever with strikes a certainty
given inflation, growing worker militancy and shrinking company
margins as commodity prices fall.
Half of South Africa's platinum shafts are unprofitable at
current prices and miners have little room to manoeuvre in gold
as well due to industry costs now averaging around $1,150 an
"Demands to the Chamber of Mines will be delivered two weeks
from now and the NUM will demand a double-digit pay increase as
well as significant improvement in conditions of service," the
NUM said in a statement on Sunday.
The NUM always starts with double-digit demands but it does
so now from a vulnerable position after losing a bloody turf war
in the platinum shafts to the radical Association of Mineworkers
and Construction (AMCU).
Labour violence last year killed more than 50 people and led
to credit downgrades for Africa's top economy.
So the NUM, having faced criticism that its leaders had
grown out of touch and become too close to management, is likely
to yield little ground and has signaled it will take a tough
line on issues such as lay-offs.
It said it "condemned" moves by Sibanye Gold to lay
off up to 3,000 workers because of an underground fire at one of
its mines, despite the fact that the disaster has rendered those
shafts inoperable for more than a year.
"We are challenging this. We think the fire is just an
excuse," NUM General Secretary Frans Baleni told Reuters.
He declined to provide details of the demands that will be
presented to the mining companies but said the NUM's members
"hungry" and had given the union "a clear mandate".
The NUM's demands to the chamber will be directed at gold
and coal producers which negotiate wages collectively through
Platinum is done on a company-by-company basis but most of
the miners in that sector now belong to AMCU, not NUM.
Mining companies have agreed to above-inflation wage
increases, often in the double-digits, for several years but
face tougher times as power and other costs soar.
Anglo American Platinum, the world's top platinum
producer, is expected early this week to announce its final plan
to restore profits through shaft closures and lay-offs, though
it will likely have backed off from an initial target of 14,000
job cuts in the face of union and government resistance.
(Editing by Jason Neely)