Over 80,000 gold miners in South Africa have gone on a strike on Tuesday to call for higher pay. The strike was launched despite an appeal by President Jacob Zuma for a solution to avert a stoppage that will hurt Africa’s largest economy.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is now calling for a 10 percent wage increase, down from earlier demands for hikes of up to 60 percent for some workers, according to the BBC.
Workers last week rejected an offer of a 6 percent increase – the same rate as the current annual rate of inflation.
South Africa’s gold industry is one of the biggest in the world.
But it has been in decline in recent years, while the platinum sector is still recovering from violence during last year’s strikes.
It has been estimated that the gold miners’ strike could cost South Africa more than $30 million daily in lost output.
Mine owners are warning the lost revenue could lead to gold mines closing and thousands of jobs losses, following a fall in the price of gold.
They say that their production costs have increased as they have had to dig ever deeper to extract gold, BBC reports.
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According to Reuters, a turf war between NUM and AMCU (Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) erupted last year, triggering violence that killed dozens of people and unleashing a wave of wildcat strikes that rocked South Africa’s platinum and gold industries and led to sovereign credit downgrades.
NUM has since become more strident in its demands as it confronts the challenge from AMCU.
The unions seem determined to end what they see as a culture of low pay dating back to the apartheid era when impoverished black miners migrated to the industry’s heartland for jobs.
“The union is aware of the devastating impact industrial action would have on the economy which is largely a white man’s economy with no benefits for poor black mineworkers,” NUM said in a statement.
White rule ended in 1994 and the unions say miners are due a bigger share from the multibillion-dollar industry.
The average South African miner’s monthly pay, including benefits, totaled 15,840 rand ($1,500) at the end of last year, according to government statistics, Reuters reports.