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The Globe and Mail

African gold miners to talk as strike starts

Miners work underground at the Harmony Goldmine, near Carletonville, South Africa, in this Oct. 27, 2004 file photo.

Themba Hadebe/AP/Themba Hadebe/AP

South African gold mine workers and the major producers were due to meet on Friday for wage talks, in a bid to end a strike that could halt daily output worth up to $25-million (U.S.) at a time when the price of bullion is near record highs.

About 100,000 workers at AngloGold Ashanti , Gold Fields , Harmony Gold and a small miner downed tools on Thursday, demanding wage hikes of 14 per cent against offers of seven to nine per cent.

The country's annual "strike season" is in full swing, with unions demanding 10-15 per cent pay rises, well above inflation of five per cent. The strikes have so far hit chemical manufacturers, as well as coal and diamond miners.

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The strikes highlight the conflicting positions within the ruling African National Congress, which is keen to draw more foreign investment and yet is in a governing alliance with organized labour.

South Africa is home to both the continent's most developed capital markets and some of its most militant unions.

The chief executive of global miner Anglo American, which has been hurt by strikes in its coal fields and could face a stoppage at its platinum unit, said she was confident that talks with workers were progressing.

"We have been engaging with the trade unions and would encourage them to accept [our offer]so we are looking forward to a conclusion to that strike," Cynthia Carroll told reporters on a conference call, referring to the coal strike.

Investors have hammered shares of South African miners for most of this week, due to concern about the impact of lost production, even as the price of bullion sticks near a record high.

After three days of steep losses Johannesburg's index of gold miners was up 1.2 per cent in early trade on Friday.

Labour strife has ended on one front. Petroleum workers accepted a deal that ended an almost three-week strike in the industry which had slowed commerce and caused panic buying at the pumps in Africa's largest economy.

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