Thousands of striking workers have been sacked in recent days
(BBC News Africa)
South African unions and gold-mining companies have agreed a deal aimed at settling a bitter long-running dispute.
The National Union of Mineworkers and two other unions signed the pay deal with industry body the Chamber of Mines, but few details were released.
It is unclear whether the deal will satisfy thousands of striking workers, many of whom have been dismissed after their action was ruled illegal.
The strikes have slashed production and cost the industry millions of dollars.
Strikes in the platinum and coal sectors, which are not covered by Thursday’s agreement, have also raged for weeks.
More than 40 people died in violent clashes between police and striking workers at a platinum mine in August.
The National Treasury said on Thursday that strikes across the mining industry had cost the country’s economy 10bn rand ($1.1bn; £710m).
South Africa is one of the world’s biggest producers of precious metals.
‘Worst is over’
Unions and employers gave few details of Thursday’s agreement.
NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said the deal represented a 10.8% wage increase, but did not specify which workers would be affected.
“The worst in the gold sector is over. Members have accepted a new pay structure,” he said.
But he added that the deal would only cover the next few months, and negotiations would resume in February.
Marian van der Walt of Harmony Gold, one of the firms represented by the Chamber of Mines, welcomed the deal.
“We’re very pleased that they signed [to] bring all of the uncertainty and turmoil in the market to an end,” she said.
Harmony said 98% of its striking workforce had now returned to work.
Another firm, Gold Fields, also welcomed the agreement.
Gold Fields said more than 28,000 of its workers had gone out on strike, 8,100 of whom had been dismissed after they failed to honour an ultimatum to return to work.
On Thursday a spokesman said 7,300 of the sacked workers had appealed against their dismissals.
Analysts say workers across the industry are disaffected with the NUM and other mainstream unions, regarding them as too close to the employers.
The workers had been demanding 6,000 rand ($1,800; £1,100) in monthly pay, more than three times their current average salary.
Thursday’s deal looks like a tentative step to ending all the strikes in the gold sector. But the impasse in the platinum sector still exists and many mines remain closed.
Part of the problem is that platinum mines, unlike their counterparts in the gold industry, tend to negotiate with their own workers rather than with all the workers across the sector. This is why workers for the Lonmin firm got a 22% wage increase but 12,000 of those at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) who were out on a wildcat strike were sacked.
Amplats expects its refined platinum production to fall to between 2.2m and 2.4m ounces this year. The Treasury says that the production of platinum group metals slumped by more than 15% in August, compared with a year earlier.