Voice of America (Washington, DC)

25 June 2014

South African Union Leader Praises Platinum Wage Agreement

The president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) of South Africa has described the agreement ending the country's longest mining strike as a breakthrough for workers.

Joseph Mathunjwa said the workers have managed to unshackle themselves from the slave wage structure dating back from colonial times and lasting through 20 years since the end of apartheid.

He called on the South African government to re-examine its industrialization and wage policies to ensure an equitable distribution of the country's wealth.

Mathunjwa said the agreement has put the workers on the right path toward decent wages and working conditions in the mining industry.

"It was an agreement that we reached for the duration of three years, starting 2013 to 2016 June, of which they gave the least paid mine worker a thousand rand increase for each and every month," he said.

The agreement raises wages for the lowest paid workers, whose basic salary is less than 12,500 rand ($1,180) by 1,000 rand ($95) a month for two years, and by 950 rand in the third year.

The workers had originally demanded that basic wages be increased to 12,500 rand -- which would have represented a more than doubling of income.

"The lowest paid mine worker in South Africa in [the] platinum sector was 4,500 rand a month. So, therefore, it was quite a very slight salary considering the environment in which our members are subjected to. I think it is a journey that one has to walk until such time that our members realize better working conditions," Mathunjwa said.

Mathunjwa described the agreement as a breakthrough.

"We've managed to unshackle ourselves from this slave wage structure that came long from colonization to the last 20 years of our democracy that hasn't been challenged. So, it's a breakthrough. We are on the right path toward decent salary and decent working conditions in the mining industry," he said.

He called on the South African government to re-examine its industrialization and wage policies to ensure an equitable distribution of the country's wealth.

"I think it is proper that they should look at this policy that doesn't address the inequality that was created more than 300 years ago. Even in our dispensation from 1994, the pay structure that was designed for black workers was never challenged and it was never changed. So, therefore, it is incumbent on the government to look at the industrialization policy by equally distributing the wealth of the country," Mathunjwa said.

The three platinum companies, Anglo-American Platinum, Lonmin and Impala Platinum, signed the wage agreement Tuesday. Lonmin CEO Ben Magara warned a restructuring of his company was inevitable and hinted that could result in job losses. The three companies lost a combined 24-billion rand ($2.27 billion) in revenue.

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