Striking Mineworkers to Vote on Company Proposals
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ The black mineworkers’ union announced its members would vote Wednesday on proposals by the major mining companies that offer slight improvements in benefits but no wage increase.
The balloting was announced at a news conference Tuesday night following the first contract talks since the strike by more than 200,000 miners began Aug. 9.
If members of the National Union of Mineworkers accept the proposal, the strike will end, said Cyril Ramaphosa, the union’s general secretary.
″But if our members reject the offer, the strike continues,″ he added.
Ramaphosa headed the union negotiators in the talks with the Chamber of Mines, which represents the six major mining firms targeted by the strikers.
He said the union would poll strikers Wednesday on the entire benefit package, and reply to the chamber by Wenesday night. The union would not recommend acceptance or rejection of the offer.
But he added, ″The union negotiating team is clearly not happy that the issue of wages was not discussed.″
Ramaphosa said voting would be by a show of hands because the union would not have time to tabulate individual ballots from the 340,000 miners it says are on strike at 45 gold and coal mines. The chamber puts the number of strikers at 210,000 at 29 mines.
Under the proposal, the pay miners receive when they are on annual leave would increase by 10 percent, but they would not get any additional vacation days. Miners currently receive only a portion of their regular pay when they are on vacation.
Death benefits would be raised from two times a miners’ annual salary to four times that amount.
The union had sought to have death benefits increased to five times the annual pay and have annual leave increased to 30 days from the current range of 14-21 days.
The chamber made no new offers to the union’s other demands, which included a 30 percent wage increase, additional danger pay, and recognition of the anniversary of the Soweto riots on June 16, 1976, as a paid holiday.
According to the union the average salary for a miner is $170 per month. The chamber says the average monthly salary is $285.
Johann Liebenberg, chief negotiator for the chamber, speaking after the union news conference, confirmed the union’s account of the companies’ proposals.
He said, ″The union has been advised that if the offers were rejected they would be withdrawn,″ and the chamber expects a reply from the union by 9 p.m. (3 p.m. EDT) Wednesday.
Six miners have been killed during the strike, and the union said 320 strikers have been injured and 300 arrested.
About 400 strikers gathered in rain outside the chamber’s offices, chanting freedom songs and slogans. Police eventually set a 25-minute deadline for the men to disperse and most left in the buses that brought them to the scene.
Other strikers remained, and hoisted union leaders on their shoulders when the emerged from the chamber building after four hours of negotiations.
Talks between the union and the chamber broke down in early July.
Since the strike started, the chamber had said it would not negotiate a further increase beyond raises of between 15 percent and 23.4 percent that it implemented July 1. It placed the average monthly wage before those increases at $250.
The union had refused to reopen talks unless wages were on the agenda, but the two sides agreed Tuesday to meet without conditions.
The resumption of talks came amid a series of back-to-work ultimatums by the companies.
Minutes before the negotiators met, Anglo American Corp., the country’s largest mining company, set deadlines for 12,000 more miners to return to work or face dismissal.
Anglo already has fired about 7,000 strikers. Its new threat raises to about 30,000 the number of its workers who face dismissal if they do not meet the various deadlines on Wednesday and Thursday.
The only other talks that have taken place during the strike involved only Anglo and the union and dealt just with ways to reduce strike-related violence. Those talks broke down last week after two sessions.
Anglo, which produced more than 39 percent of South Africa’s gold last year, has been the worst hit of the major mining firms. It acknowledged substantial losses, but like the other companies refused to give specific figures.
The Labor Monitoring Group, a research group based at the University of Witwatersrand, says the three biggest mining groups have lost a total of $95 million in pre-tax working profits as a result of the strike.
While the talks were in progress Tuesday, Anglo issued a statement saying two of its executives received death threats in unsigned letters. The statement said police were notified.