JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng - Tens of thousands of gold miners are set to go on strike Tuesday after wage talks broke down, threatening to cost millions of dollars in lost output in the troubled sector.
Powerful labour group the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) - which represents the bulk of 120,000 workers affected - called for stoppages following its members' rejection of a 6.5 percent wage hike last week.
NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said early Tuesday that the strike would kick off on the 6:00 pm (1600 GMT) shift. "We will go until Christmas," he told AFP.
The gold sector stands to lose 761 kilogrammes in production each day, worth around US$34 million (S$43.44 million), gold industry spokeswoman Charmane Russell told AFP.
Gold workers are demanding wage increases of between 60 and 100 percent, denouncing company executives' high salaries while workers live in poverty in a country with one of the world's biggest wealth gaps.
"The pay that we are asking for is not high. It is normal and reasonable," said Seshoka.
"If there are bosses that sit in air-conditioned offices earning millions a year, why can't they (miners) earn 7,000 (US$700) basic a month?"
The strikes will add to the pressure building on Africa's largest economy, where at least 75,000 workers in the construction and automobile industries have downed tools since last week.
The stoppages have become a frequent occurence during annual wage negotiations, but this year come amid sluggish growth and rampant unemployment.
"Our most important industry is in crisis and we have not yet found how to stem the tide of destruction," said Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani in an opinion article in Business Day newspaper.