South Africa's labor unions representing gold mineworkers on Wednesday rejected a wage offer from seven companies.
The seven companies proposing a wage hike from 4 percent to 5 percent are represented by the Chamber of Mines of South Africa (CMSA) in the negotiations. The wage dispute was declared by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Solidarity and the United Association of South Africa (UASA), while the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) asked for extra information before making a decision.
NUM General Secretary Frans Baleni said the dispute comes after the gold companies insulted mineworkers by offering a 1 percent increase.
"The effect of this offer would be to raise the guaranteed pay of entry-level underground employees for major gold-producing companies to at least 980 U.S dollars per month," the CMSA said in a statement.
Since last year, the South African gold industry has been hit by labor disputes and strikes over low wages and poor working conditions.
Baleni said the dispute will be referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for facilitation and is one step away from a legal, protected strike action.
"The gold producers failed to entertain all other worker demands whilst at the same time being unable to move significantly on basic wages. As far as we are concerned, negotiations have not yet begun," Baleni said
"It remains our intention to find an amicable solution but the gold producers are just not prepared, they are demanding a strike, said Baleni.
Meanwhile, members of the NUM who have been protesting against the c chamber's pittance offer have vowed to bring the chamber "down on its knees."
"Should the Chamber be unable to meet the union demands, it would be the beginning of the end for South Africa's gold mining as we know it," NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said. "The NUM, Solidarity and UASA have declared a dispute and referred the matter to the CCMA for mediation. This will give the parties an opportunity to engage with the assistance of a mediator for about a 30-day period," the chamber said in a statement
Solidarity General Secretary Gideon du Plessis said the small increase in the producers' offer meant "facilitating should take place sooner rather than later to give negotiations a boost."
"Solidarity still hopes that an agreement within the best interests of the gold sector could be reached and has urged the executives of the employers in the gold sector to put their negotiators in a better bargaining position so that an agreement could be reached," he said.
It is feared that if relevant parties take long to resolve the mater the strike might develop into a tense situation as miners are likely to imitate the gallantry stance taken by their colleagues at Lonmin Marikana Platinum near Johannesburg.
Strikes at Marikana turned violent last year, claiming 44 lives.