JOHANNESBURG – South Africa's main mining union said on Wednesday it had offered to lower its wage increase demands to gold companies, raising hopes of a possible compromise that could limit the duration of a strike that has already hit producers.
The stoppage over a wage dispute in South Africa's gold industry called by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) began at the evening shift late on Tuesday, with many miners refusing to go underground, producers said.
Production at 17 of the 23 mines currently in negotiations was either partially or severely affected, the Chamber of Mines said.
NUM had offered the chamber, which negotiates on behalf of gold companies, a more flexible position, a NUM spokesman said.
"We said to them: 'If you are prepared to move, then we may be prepared to move'," Lesiba Seshoka said in comments broadcast by SAFM radio.
NUM, which represents two-thirds of miners in the gold sector, had been seeking wage increases of up to 60%, while gold producers had been offering 6.5%.
Asked by Reuters, Seshoka said talks with employers were continuing but he would not confirm media reports that NUM had drastically reduced its demand to a 10% pay hike.
"There are no revised formal offers by either party but there has been discussions," Charmane Russell, a spokeswoman for the companies grouped in the Chamber of Mines, told Reuters.
"The employers and the NUM have come much, much closer to finding one another," she said.
On Tuesday, President Jacob Zuma had appealed to gold companies and unions to try to avert a strike in the iconic but waning South African industry, which once produced a third of the world's bullion but is now in rapid decline.