Miners Reject Company Offer to End Strike
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Hundreds of thousands of black miners voted almost unanimously Wednesday to continue the nation’s biggest and costliest legal strike. Mine owners sasmissing strikers and threatening thousands of others with the same fate.
Cyril Ramaphosa, 34-year-old chief of the National Union of Mineworkers was grim-faced as he announced: ″The strike continues until our demands are met.″ He said the miners voted nearly unanimously in union halls and hostels to stay out rather than accept an offer by the Chamber of Mines, which represents the six largest mining companies, for a slight improvement in benefits but no raise in pay.
″Our entire membership on the striking mines has decided not to accept the chamber’s offer,″ Ramaphosa told a news conference, with 100 men behind him singing a union solidarity song.
Johann Liebenberg, industrial relations chief for the Chamber of Mines, said: ″The strike continues, and our managements will simply have to do whatever is necessary to bring it to an end as quickly as possible. We think this is a sad miscalculation on the part of the union.″
Ramaphosa said the vote was conducted by a show of hands at at gathering points throughout the mining country of Transvaal province and the Orange Free State.
″It remains our view that the strike ... is a just struggle by thousands of mineworkers for a living wage and improved working conditions,″ he said, adding that union officials had not recommended approval or rejection of the offer. ″Our members found that they could not even consider the offer as seriously as we thought they would consider it.″
He said the union is willing to resume negotiations ″at any time″ and urge again that mediators be brought in. The chamber rejected that idea when talks broke down last month.
The management offer would have slightly improved death benefits and holiday pay, but it did not address the union’s demand for a 30 percent wage hike, the main reason the strike was called.
Ramaphosa disclosed that the union had lowered its 30 percent wage increase demand to 27 percent in talks with the Chamber of Mines on Tuesday, but they htrike at 45 gold and coal mines in the biggest legal walkout in the country’s history. The chamber puts the number of strikers at 210,000 at 29 mines.
Representatives of the union and the chamber met for four hours Tuesday in the first contract negotiations since the strike began Aug. 9.
Owners offered to increase by 10 percent the pay miners receive when they are on their annual leave, but they would not get any additional vacation days, which the union had demanded. Miners receive only a portion of their regular pay when they are on vacation.
Another offer from the chamber would raise death benefits from two times a miner’s annual salary to four times that amount, by increasing the contributions of both the employees and management.
Miners wanted death benefits increased to five times annual pay. The union made no calls for increased vacation pay.
Negotiators for the chamber ignored union demands for danger pay, an increase in annual leave to 30 days from the current average of 14 to 21 days, and recognition of the anniversary of the 1976 Soweto riots, June 16, as a paid holiday.
The chamber had said the offer would be withdrawn if the miners did not accept it by Wednesday night, it would be withdrawn.
It said the owners jwould not negotiate a further increase beyond raises of 15-23.4 percent that it implemented July 1. The annual inflation rate in South Africa is 17 percent.
According to chamber statistics, black miners made an average $250 a month before the raise and now earn $285. The union says miners averaged $170 dollars a month before the unilateral increase.
Anglo American Corp., the country’s biggest gold producer and the enterprise worst hit by the strike, suspended its back-to-work ultimatums until union balloting was completed. Anglo fired about 7,000 strikers last week and threatened an additional 30,000 workers with dismissal this week.
Company officials have acknowledged they have lost substantial revenue from the strike and all mining houses are reported processing their stockpiled gold at mines where the strike has shutdown production. The companies will not give figures on their losses.
The Labor Monitoring Group, a research organization based at the University of the Witwatersrand, said that by Saturday, the three biggest companies had lost a total of $95 million in pre-tax profits as a result of the strike.
It said implementing the union demand of 30 percent increases would have cost the companies less in the first year than the strike has cost them so far.