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One gold strike ends, another looms in S.Africa

A South African gold miners’ strike has ended after workers at Harmony Gold accepted a final wage offer, the company said Sunday, as elsewhere workers voted to down tools.

Tens of thousands of National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) members went on strike over pay on Tuesday night, but most had already returned to work after agreeing wage deals of between 7.5 and 8.0 percent.

Workers at Harmony’s mines in the central Free State and Northern Cape provinces had initially held out for a better deal, but the company said they had now accepted.

“Members of the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) have accepted the same offer made by other producers in the industry, and have returned to work,” Harmony Gold said in a statement.

But members of rival labour group the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) voted Sunday to reject an eight-percent wage offer.

The union had not striked with NUM, but will give notice to down tools if new talks with the industry stall, its president Joseph Mathunjwa said.

“We have confirmed and voted for a strike,” he told a crowd of workers in mining town Carletonville southwest of Johannesburg, according to state broadcaster the SABC.

AMCU represents just under 20,000 — or a fifth — of affected gold workers.

Gold remains a key industry in Africa’s largest economy, employing around 140,000 people and accounting for 10 percent of export earnings and three percent of Gross Domestic Product.

But falling gold prices, a declining grade of ore and increased costs such as electricity and wages, have drained revenues.

Harmony chief executive Graham Briggs said the present wage agreement was “in the interests of long term industrial relations stability”, yet warned such hikes could not be repeated.

“Continued industrial action will make this increase unaffordable, and place the future viability of some of our operations under threat. This, in turn, could have an impact on jobs,” he said.

Negotiators resolved the wage dispute in a fairly short time after the strikes started, averting a repeat of the protracted and violent stoppages that shook the country a year ago.