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South Africa gold miners agree pay deal, avert strike
Tue Jul 28, 2009 2:04pm EDT
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By James Macharia
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's biggest union agreed a wage deal with gold and coal producers on Tuesday, averting a strike in the crucial mining industry and easing political pressure on President Jacob Zuma.
But council workers stayed on strike for a second day in the latest stand-off between Zuma and the unions, who helped sweep him to power in an April election and now want the president to fulfill his promises to help improve living standards.
South Africa is suffering its first recession since 1992 which unions say has hit the country's poor hardest.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and other unions signed the new two-year gold and coal pay agreements, said the Chamber of Mines, which represents gold and coal producers.
The union accepted a wage offer of between 9 and 10.5 percent in the gold sector -- where South Africa is the third biggest global producer -- after initially demanding a hike of 15 percent. Annual inflation stands at 8 percent. [nWEA2946]
The 150,000-strong gold sector is a major foreign exchange earner and symbol of South Africa's economic power.
In downtown Johannesburg, hundreds of striking refuse collectors overturned trash cans.
A man who identified himself as Gabriel told radio station Talk Radio 702 how he had not been able to bury his two-month-old daughter because the cemetery was closed by the labor action.
Less than three months after he took office following the ruling ANC's election victory, Zuma is caught between delivering on promises to improve the lives of the poor and the realities of an economy in recession.
Tens of thousands of council workers stopped work on Monday over their demands for a 15 percent wage hike. The strike has so far not hurt financial markets but economists say that could change if the dispute persists.
The strike by public transport workers, refuse collectors and licensing officers follows days of violent protests by residents of impoverished townships who have complained about lack of healthcare, water and electricity.
Protests over poor housing and unemployment continued in Thokoza township southeast of Johannesburg. Police fired rubber bullets at protesters who burned tires and blockaded roads.
Unions have also pressed for bigger interest rate cuts, challenging central bank policy.
Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana warned against further violence, saying unlawful actions were "demonizing the real concerns of the majority of the workers," SAPA news agency said. Continued...
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