Sibanye preparing for gold miner strike, but holds out hope for a wage deal

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Sibanye-Stillwater has appealed to gold mining employees to reconsider its wage offer.
Sibanye-Stillwater has appealed to gold mining employees to reconsider its wage offer.
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  • Sibanye-Stillwater has appealed to gold mining employees to reconsider its wage offer.
  • Sibanye’s comments come ahead of a CCMA meeting where picketing rules will be finalised.
  • The group COO said an unsustainable wage offer would risk the future of gold operations which indirectly support over one million people.

Sibanye-Stillwater has urgently appealed to unions to seriously reconsider its wage offer in a bid to avoid a strike at the company’s gold operations.

"We do truly hope that lessons will be learnt from the past, and that we can reach a reasonable agreement that will not jeopardise our future. We continue to appeal to our unions and to our employees, to continue engaging with us to consider our offer to avoid embarking on a strike," said Richard Stewart, Sibanye-Stillwater COO.

Sibanye’s offer is an increase of R480 in year one, R570 in year two, and R600 in year three for certain categories of surface and underground workers, while miners, artisans and officials are offered an increase of 4.1% in year one, 4.7% in year two, and 4.7% in year three.

While labour has described the offer as an insult, Sibanye maintains it is a good offer, which will add R1.2 billion to its wage bill over three years, but will ensure the sustainability of the operations for years to come.

Stewart said Sibanye was disappointed that talks have not reached a conclusion as unions have failed to budge on wage demands that would add R2.5 billion to the company’s wage bill in the next three years. This, Stewart said, is not sustainable and has no correlation with inflation.

Paying fair wages

The company said it believes it is paying a fair wage with entry-level underground workers already earning R16 000 a month, which would increase to just under R18 000 a month by mid-2023 if the current wage deal were accepted.

The company’s appeal to labour comes as it prepares to meet with union representative at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) on Monday to finalise picketing rules. Thereafter, the commission is expected to inspect site before issuing a certificate of no-resolution by 21 December. Unions are then at any time entitled to call a strike with 48 hours’ notice. The strike is expected to be called in the new year after workers return from December leave.

While Stewart said Sibanye recognised that its employees aspired to better their lives and that of their families, agreeing to an unsustainable wage increase would put the future of the gold mines at risk.

This, he said, would be to the detriment of some one million people that the business indirectly supports.

"Our sector has got quite a different cost profile to many of the other mining sectors. Steep increases that we've seen, particularly in electricity and wages over the last decade, have really led to an unsustainable rise in the total inflation that our sector has experienced," said Stewart. "We have to recognise it has reached a point now, where the continued above-inflation wage increases are simply not sustainable and will start having severe negative consequences for our operations."

While Sibanye hopes to avoid a strike, it has begun to prepare for one.

"We are planning for strikes, we have to," said Stewart. "And that is not because it's something that we want … it's just responsible of us to recognise the position we in and be able to make sure that, in the event that does occur, we are able to protect and sustain our operations through that period for the benefit of all stakeholders."

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