30,000 South African coal miners poised to strike

The fate of the South African mining industry is once again in the hands of striking workers.

The country's powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on Sunday announced that coal miners will down tools following failed negotiations with industry.

Over 30,000 workers are expected to walk picket lines starting at 18:00 local time, DW Akademie reported.

NUM wants a 14 percent increase in wages for miners and officials plus a 13 to 14 percent rise in pay for the lowest-paid workers, according to the media report. Coal companies are offering about 8 percent.

It's only been about six months since the last coal mine strike in South Africa. In April NUM members walked off the job at Anglo American’s (LON:AAL) Kleinkopje coal mine. In March, the NUM said it may seek pay hikes of up to 100 percent for its lowest-paid members, which currently make 6,000 rand ($491) a month in gold, 7,000 rand in coal and 9,000 rand in the diamond sector.

Sunday's negative news for coal mining in South Africa comes two days after a labour settlement was reached in the country's beleaguered gold sector. On Friday Harmony Gold (NYSE:HMY) and AngloGold Ashanti (NYSE:AU) reached three-year wage agreements with unions following four months of contentious negotiations reported the Wall Street Journal.

Over the summer the unions held a hammer over the nation's largest gold producers, with both the NUM and the more militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) rejecting an offered 17 percent pay rise. Friday's deal includes annual wage hikes of between 9 and 13 percent. It is estimated that over half of South Africa's gold mines are currently unprofitable at current prices.

Experts believe that the troubles affecting gold producers in South Africa go way deeper than the usual cycles the mining industry experiences.

The country, which holds some the deepest and oldest gold mines in the world, needs to invest heavily in new technologies to reduce labour costs, increase efficiencies at gold extraction and be able to work 24 hours a day all year long. Currently, miners in South Africa work about two-thirds of the day, 275 days a year, recent data from the Chamber of Mines shows.