Will new wage offer end coal strike?


The strike in the coal sector continued yesterday as daylong talks between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Chamber of Mines resulted in a revised offer on Friday evening.

Details of the revised offer were not yet available at the time of going to print, but the NUM’s chief negotiator, Peter Bailey, said it would likely be taken to members for consideration.

The NUM launched the strike involving almost half of the workers on South African coal mines last Sunday evening.

Its demands are for a R1 000 increase in the wages of the lowest-paid categories of workers and 14% for higher-paid artisans.

Demanding a rand amount increase instead of a percentage echoes trends in the gold and platinum sectors where negotiations are increasingly revolving around aspirational wage targets, not the traditional percentages.

The standing offers from employers before Friday were between 7% and 8.5% at the large companies and as low as 5% at smaller ones like Msobo Coal. The big firms at the table are Anglo American, Glencore and Exxaro.

There was minimal attendence this week at the companies affected by the strike, said chamber spokesperson Charmane Russell.

An obvious bargaining chip in the coal sector is the risk that interruptions pose to Eskom, but the power utility has repeatedly asserted that its coal stockpiles amount to at least 30 days’ worth of supply to all stations. That makes any impact on electricity generation unlikely without a protracted strike – something the coal sector is not known for.

There are other reasons a coal strike will always struggle to have a large and immediate impact.

The negotiations with the chamber do not cover all the major coal mines in South Africa. Sasol and South32 do not use the forum, but mine more than a quarter of the country’s coal.

Another particular feature of the coal industry is its enormous use of subcontracting, especially for opencast mines.

According to official statistics, about half of all the 78 530 workers in the coal sector are contractors.

The gap between the remuneration of direct employees and contractors is enormous. The average monthly wage of contract workers is less than R8 000, but for direct employees it is almost R32 000.


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