Business

South African miners return to work after wage deal

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Media captionThe BBC's Nomsa Maseko says the mood at the mine is ''quite jovial''

Thousands of miners at South Africa's biggest platinum mining firms have returned to work, a day after unions signed a wage deal to end a five-month strike.

Employees at Anglo America Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin will have to undergo medical checks and safety training before they begin work again.

The firms said it would be "some time" before they resumed full production.

The "safety and wellness of employees was paramount", the companies said.

The firms estimate the strike has so far cost them more than 24bn rand ($2.3bn; £1.3bn) while employees have lost about 10.6bn rand in wages.

"It is our sincere hope that our companies, our industry, our employees and all other stakeholders will never again have to endure the pain and suffering of this unprecedented strike period. None of us, nor the country as a whole, can afford a repetition," the chief executives of the three mining firms said in a joint statement.

Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption The miners need medical checks and safety training before they return

Analysis

Milton Nkosi, BBC South Africa correspondent

The fact that South Africa's currency gained 1% against the US dollar is a demonstration of a sigh of relief by the market.

The workers must be the most relieved, given that they haven't been able to earn for nearly half a year, with no bread on the table for their destitute family dependents out in the hinterland.

President Jacob Zuma's new second term administration will also be breathing a sigh of relief because the last thing they want, as they begin a new five year term, is a recession. The economy contracted by 0.6% in the first quarter partly as a result of the strike.

The governing ANC often point out that South Africa's problems of inequality, poverty and high unemployment will only be solved if the economy is growing at about 5% per annum.

So the sooner the miners return underground to dig out that shiny metal from deep in the belly of the earth the better for all of us.


Image copyright AP
Image caption Workers are queuing up at the mines

The BBC's Nomsa Maseko, who was at the mine as employees returned to work, said the mood was "quite jovial".

"They say it [the outcome of the strike] was a victory for them because they are now in the right direction to get better wages," she added.

The workers said they were pleased to be returning.

"We are back to work, it's good," said one miner as he joined the queue of workers returning.

Another employee added: "Being without income was difficult for everyone, everything stood still. This bit of an increase will definitely motivate us to work harder."

The wage deal agreed between the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the mining firms will see the salaries of the lowest paid workers, which are currently 5,000 rand (£277.60) a month, rise by about 1,000 rand (£55.50) a month each year until 2017.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Miners said they were pleased to be returning

Staff will also receive additional benefits such as pensions, housing and health insurance.

Workers had originally demanded that basic wages be increased to 12,500 rand (£706.40) a month by 2017, which they called a "living wage" - the necessary amount required to live decently in the midst of rising food and transport costs in South Africa.

AMCU acknowledged that not all workers would reach a 12,500 rand a month basic wage under the new three-year deal, but has still described the outcome as a victory.

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