Production across South Africa’s gold mines was crippled after 80,000 workers walked off the job over pay issues peacefully on Wednesday; the union reps for two-thirds of strikers, however, suggested many strikers may return to work soon amid agreements of an 8% wage hike.
On Tuesday, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) called the walkoff, hitting at the heart of sub-Saharan Africa’s No. 1 gold producer to the tune of $35 million daily, according to government data. The Chamber of Mines, which represents employers, reported that production at 16 of the country’s 23 mines involved in talks was partly or seriously impacted.
Initial union demands included wage increases up to 60% — 10 times the offer made by the mining companies. Operators include majors, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony Gold and Sibanye Gold. Juniors Village Main Reef and Pan African Resources, meanwhile, announced their own deals with the NUM, which represents 64% of the country’s 120,000 gold mine workers.
The stoppage in Africa’s biggest gold-producing nation has added to the ongoing woes of the continent’s No. 1 economy by reducing output in other industries such as auto manufacturing.
These peaceful legal strikes contrasted with last year’s illegal stoppages that brought turmoil to regional gold and platinum mines. The most serious incident at Marikana, a platinum mine, left 46 dead after security forces gunned down striking workers; it was the deadliest mining violence since Apartheid’s fall in 1994.