The South African gold industry is known to be very lucrative in its business transactions, but it seems that this image is true for only those at the top of the hierarchy. In the past week or so, gold mine workers have protested against their employers for giving them wages they perceive to be too low.
This South African gold miners’ strike has now ended after workers at Harmony Gold accepted the final wage offer.The majority of the 80,000 miners across the gold mining industry who started striking earlier this week had already accepted an 8% pay offer, then returning to work. Workers at Harmony Gold’s mines, however, were holding out for a better deal on wages. Harmony Gold mines are located in the central Free State and Northern Cape provinces. The miners’ union had initially demanded a 60% rise in pay, but the employer’s were not amused. Employers, in return, offered a 6% rise, which is the same as the inflation rate. Harmony Gold representatives have stated that its employees had now accepted the pay settlement.
Even though South Africa’s gold industry is one of the biggest in the world, it has been in decline in recent years. The platinum sector is still recovering from violence during last year’s strikes. Owners of the mining complexes have warned that a long strike could lead to gold mines closing, further resulting in thousands of jobs being lost. This warning follows a fall in the price of gold. Companies say their production costs have risen as they are forced to dig ever deeper to extract gold. For many years in the past, South Africa was the world’s largest gold producer but it has now been relegated to being the fifth biggest, with just 6% of world production. But despite the decline, mining is still the most important sector in South Africa’s economy.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) officially represents about 64% of South Africa’s 120,000 gold miners. Many observers were horrified when police shot dead 34 platinum miners during an unofficial strike called by a rival union, only last year. The rival union accused the NUM of being too close to the ANC government. Strikes are becoming a recurring phenomenon in South Africa, as the vehicle manufacturing and construction industries have already been hit by strikes. Some electricity workers have also recently gone on strike, leading to severe power cuts in Johannesburg, the biggest city in South Africa.