NUM holds out for golden pay day

Around 80,000 miners downed tools on Tuesday at the start of their night shift.

National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) members downed tools on 3 September. Picture: EWN

JOHANNESBURG - The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) says it's prepared to lower its wage demand for miners in the gold sector as long as the increase remains in the double digits.

Around 80,000 miners downed tools on Tuesday at the start of the night shift in what analysts initially feared could become one of the hardest hitting mass actions in South Africa's history.

The industrial action followed unsuccessful talks between the union and the Chamber of Mines at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) where the employers' final offer of 6.5 percent was tabled.

The union now says it's willing to consider any double-digit offer. It also appears to have backtracked on its original wage demand, saying miners were never asking for a 60 percent hike.

The NUM's Lesiba Seshoka says their demand is about a wage adjustment rather than a wage percentage increase.

"We have demanded an increase of R2,300 for surface and R3,000 for underground."

But labour analysts have warned that these demands amount to a 60 percent increase.

Seshoka says if this adjustment isn't possible, then the least they want is a double-digit hike.

"We want an adjustment on the basic wages on the minimum. If you can give us this it will be fine. But then otherwise you'll have to give us a 15 percent increase."

The Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry's Michael Bagraim says there appears to be confusion within the union ranks as to what they actually want.

"When you take the actual increases that they've demanded it works out to almost a 60 percent increase. This is the first time we've heard about a demand being dropped to a 15 percent hike."

Mining analyst Peter Major says the union's original demand is unrealistic.

"When you ask for something that's so far out of line you also look like a fool next to your own members."

Bagraim says the union's demand is impractical.

"It's absolutely unsustainable. It's almost a joke, if it wasn't so serious."

It's unclear if mining companies will now revise their offer of 6.5 percent.

The union says it's still willing to negotiate with mining bosses and hopes to end the strike as soon as possible to minimise the impact on the mining industry.