gold: 100,000 sa miners to strike

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    One reason for gold to move forward:

    100 000 gold miners to strike
    March 31, 2005

    By Nicky Smith

    About 100 000 gold miners would go on strike at local operations of Gold Fields and Harmony Gold over issues ranging from housing to racism, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said yesterday.

    Gwede Mantashe, the union's general secretary, said a common dispute between the NUM and the two companies was a housing allowance.

    He said the most serious problem the union was protesting against was racism at Harmony's operations. An example he cited was the difference in pay between white managers and black managers charged with the same responsibilities.

    He denied the strike had anything to do with the proposed retrenchments of 4 900 workers at Harmony or the fact that wage talks were just around the corner.

    "The last national strike was in 1987, they cannot accuse us of war mongering," he said after a meeting with the union's branches, where a mandate for a solidarity strike at Harmony's operations was given.

    On Tuesday, when Harmony sent a delegation to speak to the NUM, the union said the representative sent by the company had been too junior, which was an indication it was not serious about resolving the issues.

    On the reasons behind the Gold Fields strike, Mantashe said the union had been talking since 2003 about the "living out allowance".

    Unskilled workers who choose not to live on the mine's premises are paid R706 a month, which must cover rent, food and transport costs.

    The union is pushing for a 70 percent increase in this allowance from R706 a month to R1 200 a month.

    The strike was expected to start at 6pm last night.

    Asked if AngloGold Ashanti's operations could face similar strikes, Mantashe said jokingly: "Not yet."

    He said the union was still in talks with AngloGold Ashanti.

    Willie Jacobsz, Gold Fields' spokesperson, said Gold Fields believed any strike action would be unprotected and the company would be applying today for an urgent interdict to stymie the union.

    Jacobsz said in terms of an agreement signed in 2002, the union had agreed to an allowance which would be increased at the same rate as wage increases.

    But Mantashe said there was a clause in the agreement which allowed for amendments and after two years of talking the union's patience had worn out.

    Jacobsz said in terms of the strike certificate given to NUM, about 29 000 of Gold Fields' 42 000 employees would be allowed to strike.

    Bernard Swanepoel, Harmony's chief executive, said he was saddened by the announcements and that it looked like opportunism on the part of the union to attack the gold industry while its underbelly was exposed.

    He said the problems of profitability in the South African gold sector were well known, and it was inappropriate for labour and business to not be on the same side when faced with the challenges threatening the survival of the industry.

    But Mantashe said the industry's profitability problems were not about ore bodies or the strong rand but were rather caused by a dearth of skilled management in the industry.

    "You can't turn around difficult operations if you don't have the management skills," Mantashe said.

    Swanepoel rebutted this and said at Harmony there had been no managers of any experience which had left the company in the past four years. However, in the Free State, where the bulk of Harmony's loss-making mines and labour problems were, there had been changes in union management.

    He said this was more likely where the hole in management capacity lay.

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