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deadlock over wage offer could hit gold

By Kea' Modimoeng | 2009-07-15 00:00:00.0

AT least 150000 gold miners could down tools next week if wage negotiations between mine owners and unions remain deadlocked.

Final negotiations are taking place between the Chamber of Mines, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Solidarity.

The talks are held under the auspices of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration. The unions are expected to reject a final 8,5percent offer made by AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields and Rand Uranium.

The unions want a 15percent wage increase.

The offer includes increasing the minimum entry level wage for underground employees to R4000 by the end of 2010.

The mines are also offering a wage increase based on the consumer price index (measure of inflation) plus 1percent, with a minimum guaranteed increase of 6percent from July1 2010.

These increments are in addition to other offers for this year, with a further R100 to be given in 2010.

Harmony Gold has made a package of offers to the unions that includes a bonus linked to the performance of the gold price.

This is in an attempt to balance employment opportunities, the sustainability of marginal operations and employee expectations.

Elize Strydom, who negotiates on behalf of the gold mining companies, said: "We believe our final offer achieves a good balance between the sustainability of the companies and the demands of the various unions.

She said it was the best companies could do in the current economic climate.

NUM general secretary Frans Baleni confirmed the union had rejected the offer and "given employers another chance" to hike wages.

"The offer is below expectation and if they don't review it we will reluctantly take the certificate."

The threatening reference was made in regard to the issuing of a certificate of "non-resolution" that results in strike action.

Solidarity spokesperson Jaco Kleynhans said the offer was still not in line with their members' demands.

"Negotiations in the gold chamber have now reached an extremely critical point and next week there will be a decisive make-or-break session in negotiations," Kleynhans said