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South African mineowners agree to talks to end weeks-long strike for pay

South African strike  COURTESY PHOTO

South African strike COURTESY PHOTO

By Rush Perez
Global Information Network

South African platinum mineowners, feeling the pinch of a three-week-long strike by workers, met the week of Feb. 10 with a mediator to discuss worker demands for a wage increase.

More than 70,000 miners have been on strike since Jan. 23 after the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) first made it demands for a higher living wage.

The AMCU, the largest union at three of the world’s largest platinum companies including Anglo American Platinum Ltd., Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. and Lonmin Plc, led some 70,000 workers off the job. The strike is said to be crippling employers and costing many millions. South Africa accounts for about 70 percent of global output of the metal, used in jewelry and catalytic converters for vehicles.

At their last meeting, mining companies turned down a proposal to more than double workers’ basic pay to 12,500 rand ($1,130) within three years. The lowest-paid underground workers currently earn a monthly pay of between 5,000 rand ($455) and 6,000 rand ($545), excluding benefits.

Union leaders put the wage issue in perspective for a typical worker, male, aged in his 30s, with eight dependents.

Citing a survey by the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute, this worker would need 4,850 rand ($440) to cover basic food purchases for the family. On top of this are school fees, transport, savings and extra expenses. The rejected raise would barely lift the worker out of poverty, the workers’ group said.

The current walkout is the largest strike since the 2012 wage protest at the Marikana mine, where 34 miners were shot dead by police.

Meanwhile, a union official died yesterday after South African police used rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse striking workers at the union mine owned by Amplats, as the world’s largest producer is known, in the northern Limpopo province.

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