MARIKANA, June 25 – Thousands of miners on South Africa’s platinum belt streamed back to work Wednesday after reaching a wage deal with leading global producers that ended a crippling five month strike.
Workers at Anglo America Platinum (Amplats), Impala Platinum and Lonmin started making their way to the mines outside Rustenburg from as early as 5.00am (0300 GMT), setting the northwestern town abuzz for the first time in months.
“I feel like a new employee all over again,” said Andries Phala.
“I’m glad the strike is over. I’m also happy that our return will make a small difference in our wages,” said Phala, who has worked at Lonmin for 14 years.
Outside Lonmin’s Rowland shaft, workers formed a snaking queue stretching for about a kilometre, waiting to be let in.
More workers were still trickling in after sunrise, some in full underground mining gear, with hard hats and reflective overalls.
But production was not expected to resume soon, as the workers first have to undergo essential medical and safety procedures after months of stoppages.
Companies reported a combined loss of 24 billion rand ($2.27 billion) in earnings and said workers lost 10.6 billion rand in wages, as a result of the longest mining strike in South Africa’s history.
“Being without income was difficult for everyone, everything stood still. This bit of an increase will definitely motivate us to work harder,” said an underground employee at one of Anglo American Platinum mines.
“We also deserve our share in the wealth of this country,” he added.
The wage deal signed by the three companies on Tuesday will see the lowest paid workers whose basic salary is less than 12,500 rand ($1,180) increase by 1,000 rand ($95) a month for two years and by 950 rand in the third year.
Workers had originally demanded that basic wages be increased to 12,500 rand — which would have represented a more than doubling of income for many.
The union representing the workers, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU, acknowledged that not all workers would reach a 12,500 rand basic wage under the new three year deal, but has described the strike as a victory.