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Gold strike threat lifted at 11th hour

By Steven Moti
August 2, 2001 at 07:35 a.m. South African time
South Africa Business Report

Johannesburg -- The strike threat to South Africa's gold mines
was lifted late yesterday when the National Union of Mineworkers
(NUM), representing employees of mining companies Gold
Fields, Harmony, and Durban Roodepoort Deep (DRD),
recommended that they report for work as usual today.

More than 50,000 mineworkers were expected to arrive for
the first underground shift today. The three gold producers
had modified their positions towards the NUM's wage
demands, Crosby Moni, the union's deputy president, said
yesterday. There were, however, fears that the union's
recommendation against the strike might not have reached
some mineworkers before last night's duties, and a number
therefore might have refused to go underground.

Parties stitched together a two-year wage agreement and
will meet again in 2003 for another wage negotiation session.
AngloGold, the world's biggest gold producer, had earlier
concluded its own two-year agreement with the union. The
mineworkers had been expected to down tools from last
night's shift at DRD, Harmony, and Gold Fields, following a
48-hour notice to strike.

DRD improved its wage increase offer by a percentage
point to 7 percent for the highest paid workers and agreed
to an 8,5 percent wage increase for the lowest paid workers
on category three. The company also agreed to 25 days'
paid leave, to be introduced by next year. The NUM had
demanded 30 days' leave.

Harmony agreed to meet the R2,000 minimum wage
increase for the lowest paid workers by October next
year, while Gold Fields agreed to meet that minimum
wage by July next year. The highest paid workers will
get a pay rise of 8 percent this year and 7,5 percent next
year. Both companies agreed to offer 25 days' paid
leave by December next year. The union said it had
agreed to give all three companies time to review their
leave systems, to work towards 28 days' paid leave.

Workers in the Free State mines would receive a R2,000
minimum wage increase by December next year. Moni
said: "The offers are something we believe our members
can live on. All indications from our branches showed that
those who had had the modified positions accepted the
offers. So the strike will not go on, even though we have
not heard from our Free State members."

Frans Barker, the Chamber of Mines' chief negotiator,
said: "We remain optimistic that the settlement will be signed
by the employers at grassroots level and that there will be
no further disruptions."

The settlement is expected to bring to an end what labour
analysts have called a "season of posturing on the side of
labour and management." More than 400,000 workers in the
gold and coal mining sectors originally threatened last
month to go on a rolling mass action after the employers
and the NUM reached deadlock in the wage negotiations.