* Gold firms' wage bill to rise $150 mln
* Producers say any AMCU strike would be wildcat
* Markets shifting focus to platinum talks
By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG, Sept 11 Wage settlements in South
Africa's gold sector will amount to 1.5 billion rand ($150
million) in extra costs for companies over the next 12 months,
the country's Chamber of Mines said on Wednesday.
Companies and unions agreed to wage hikes of up to 8 percent
last week, ending a three-day strike in an industry that has
produced a third of the bullion ever pulled from the earth but
is now in almost terminal decline.
Separately, the National Association of Automobile
Manufacturers of South Africa said its members lost $2 billion
in revenue to a four-week strike that ended on the weekend,
hammering home the mounting cost of industrial action to
Africa's largest economy.
The combined wage bill last year of the main gold producers
was 22 billion rand. The workforce has since been trimmed and so
the percentage increase of the settlement to the companies'
payroll costs cannot be calculated with certainty, though it is
probably close to 7.5 percent.
South Africa's gold producers are struggling with rising
costs and depressed prices, and said they could not afford to
pay out much more without slashing jobs and cutting shafts.
Inflation is 6.3 percent and so the National Union of
Mineworkers (NUM), which represents about two-thirds of the
country's gold miners, can say it delivered above-inflation pay
hikes for its members, following a pattern of recent years.
But the agreements fall far short of the 15 to 60 percent
pay rises it had been seeking for a restive black labour force.
Hardline union AMCU, which represents almost 20 percent of
the gold workforce, has not signed up and has said its members
have given it a mandate to strike though it has not called one.
But Elize Strydom, the chamber's chief negotiator, said that
since most of the workforce had signed legally binding
agreements, companies can apply the wage settlement unilaterally
to all workers.
Therefore from the chamber's perspective, any strike would
be considered "unprotected" or wildcat, and workers taking part
could be fired.
"We have a wage agreement. There will be no further
negotiations about wages," Strydom told a news briefing.
AMCU officials could not be reached immediately for comment
but the union will meet on Friday with the chamber, which
negotiates on behalf of the country's main gold producers
including AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields and
AMCU'S NEXT MOVES
The industry is carefully watching AMCU's next moves as the
union and its members are widely regarded as unpredictable.
AMCU exploded onto South Africa's labour scene last year
when it poached tens of thousands of gold and platinum miners
from NUM in a bloody union turf war that killed dozens of
people, sparked a wave of wildcat strikes and led to sovereign
But AMCU has been a far more disciplined force this year and
has generally been following the rules of the game, a sharp
contrast to last year when its members marched by their
thousands brandishing spears, clubs and knives.
South Africa's Chamber of Mines is also negotiating on
behalf of several of the country's coal producers, representing
about 20,000 workers, and those wage talks are ongoing.
Markets are also turning their attention to talks in the
platinum sector with the world's top producers Anglo American
Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin.
AMCU is now the dominant union in the industry.
The speedy resolution to the gold dispute has raised hopes
that a potentially far more serious strike can be averted in
South Africa's platinum sector, which produces about 75 percent
of global supplies of the precious metal used for
emissions-capping converters in cars.