SA's strike season ends with signing ceremony for some, more negotiations for others

South Africa's gold mining sector officially ended this year's strike season on Tuesday as union representatives attended a signing ceremony at the Chamber of Mines.

Gold producers and three major unions, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the United Association of South Africa (UASA) and Solidarity finalized a wage agreement whereby employees, depending on their position, will receive between 7.5 and 8% wage increases effective July 1 2013, the Chamber of Mines announced in a statement. 

Living allowances will also go up from R1,640 (US $163) to R2,000 ($199) per month.

The two-year settlement also promises inflation-linked raises next July.

The signing unions represent 72% of workers employed by companies negotiating through the Chamber of Mines – AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony Gold, Pan African Resources, Rand Uranium, Sibanye Gold and Village Main Reef. The main remaining negotiator, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), has rejected the Chamber's offer.

Chamber of Mines chief negotiator Elize Strydom said the wage settlement was reached at levels that were “more than employers would have preferred," the Chamber noted in a press release.

"However, we took the view that the agreement has helped secure stability in the industry for a two-year period," said Strydom. "Overall, the settlement represents a reasonably balanced outcome in the best interests of shareholders, management and employees.”

However, some workers, driven by union promises from earlier this year, were expecting much, much more. In May, NUM told its members it would ask for wage increases of up to 60%.

Negotiations had been going on throughout the summer with companies offering 4% – less than inflation – in July. 

Following the signing ceremony, NUM posted pictures of the event on its Facebook page and responded to some criticisms from some disappointed workers.

One miner called out the labour organization for agreeing to 8% – a figure he called "insult[ing]" and not worth the three days of lost wages during strike action. A NUM representative responded by saying that Frans Baleni, NUM General Secretary, said these negotiations "were the toughest he had ever experienced."

In addition to the wage discussions, the parties also set other commitments including increasing the minimum medical incapacity benefit.