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S.Africa unions reject gold miners’ final pay offer

South Africa’s unions on Tuesday rejected a final pay increase offer from the strategically important gold mining sector, raising the spectre of widened strikes in the country.

Seven gold mining firms, including giants AngloGold Ashanti and Gold Fields, offered a maximum of 6.5 percent pay raise.

But the powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) immediately spurned the offer.

“We reject it with the contempt it deserves,” said NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka. “We think that it is a serious insult to the working poor.”

He declined to say what would happen next, after union members earlier threatened strikes if their 60-percent pay demands were not met.

They will now likely join tens of thousands of employees in the auto, construction and aviation sectors who have downed tools over wages.

Petrol station attendants, motor mechanics and car dealer employees will abandon work next week.

The gold mines offer, which includes an inflation-pegged housing allowance, will be valid for two years.

Last year unprecedented violent strikes in the mining sector left over 50 people dead in clashes, included 34 people police shot dead at Lonmin’s platinum operations in Marikana.

The Chamber of Mines, which negotiates on behalf of the gold producers, warned that the sector “remains in a perilous financial position, and can ill-afford further increases or indeed industrial action.”

“We need a sustainable agreement that will preserve our mines, and consequently jobs,” said the Chamber’s chief negotiator Elize Strydom in a statement.

The latest offer guarantees pay of 9,170 rand ($882) a month and profit-sharing schemes

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said the government does not want to “micro-manage” mining companies, but urged the industry to “break with its undesirable past by making workers feel valued for their contribution.”

“The mining industry has remained a prisoner of its apartheid past in this core element of cheap labour,” he said at a mining conference in Johannesburg.