Tens of thousands of gold mine workers in South Africa have begun their strike on Tuesday (03.09.2013) after wage talks broke down. The strike is threatening to cause millions of dollars loss in the mining sector.
The miners who are part of the powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) are demanding a 60 percent rise in wages but the employers have only offered a 6 percent. Africa's largest economy is also being plagued by other strikes in the automobile and construction sectors.
DW: How likely is it that a compromise would soon be reached?
Charmane Russell: We hope that it will be very soon but as it sounds at the moment we do anticipate that the NUM will embark on the strike from the evening shift on Tuesday. But certainly not reaching a compromise and a negotiated settlement is simply not an option. We can't simply close our industry because it's a major employer and earner of foreign exchange. It's also a major stimulus of economic development and growth in our country. So a negotiated settlement has to be reached. I suppose really the question now is at what level and how soon.
The Labour Union has called industry producers “arrogant” doesn't that signify that things are pretty bad?
Perhaps, but we also need to understand that the labor union has a position that they need to maintain. They represent workers, they need to gather and keep members and they have a specific role in society which we understand fully. What I can say though is the engagement that has happened over the last two months in terms of the negotiations. It has been very professional and cordial, it is of course a concern to us that it hasn't been much progress but certainly the engagement has been in a very positive way.
According to South Africa's media reports, some mining CEO's earn 150 times more than the miner isn't that reason enough to go on strike?
If you take a look at it, the salaries and benefits of mining CEO's are determined by the boards who decide on remuneration and it does so in accordance with very specific objectives. CEO salaries are determined by the performance of the company. Yes there's a disparity and no doubt about it but it really does depend on how you look at it. I can tell you though that CEO's or executive salaries account for 0.3 percent of the overall wage book. We take a look at it every single year and we are looking at 23 billion rand ($2.2 billion, 1.6 billion euros) and CEO salary is a very small proportion of that.
Underground gold miners earn around $484 (367 euros) per month – How do you explain such low wages?
If we take a look at what an underground miner would earn is around 5000 rand($484, 367 euros) a month in terms of basic wages but that is not what the miner earns. He earns intensive guaranteed pay that includes medical payment, housing allowance, holiday leave allowance, and pension benefit which comes to 9000 rand ($870, 660 euros) a month. And then he or she has the opportunity to earn production bonuses and various other bonuses and pay outs which in some months could double that salary. If we take a look what a teacher earns in South Africa, we are talking about 9000 rand a month and that's a secondary school teacher. So if we compare the salaries of miners compared to other sectors of the economy particularly looking at semi-skilled employees miners are relatively well paid. That is not to say that they don't do very important jobs.
What kind of action will be taken against the striking workers?
This is a protective strike, so our labor legislation is very clear and our constitution in fact encourages and recognises the right to strike. So employees may withhold their labor they will not be paid during this period but those employees who live in mine accommodation will still have their accommodation provided to them and the food will be provided as well. In a protective strike no disciplinary action is taken unless of course specific safety and safety rules are violated.
Charmane Russell is the spokesperson for the Gold mining industry in South Africa