The country’s biggest mining union wants wages more than doubled to at least $1,200 for entry-level workers.
Platinum production in South Africa has stopped, with up to 100,000 workers affected by a strike at three of the world’s biggest mines.
Workers at Impala Platinum, Anglo American Platinum and Lonmin mines embarked on an indefinite strike from early Thursday, after their demand to double the minimum monthly wage to $1,200 was rejected.
The wage dispute has pitted South Africa’s Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) against mining firms, in a conflict neither can afford to lose.
The strike is aimed at “forcing the employers to the negotiating table”, said AMCU secretary general Jeff Mpahlele.
It is the largest strike since the 2012 illegal wage protest of Marikana, where 34 miners were shot dead, and the country’s deputy president has said the government will act “decisively” to enforce law and order.
Kgalema Motlanthe said at a labour conference on Wednesday that relations between workers and employers would only get worse if the two sides dug in their heels.
In an address to the Leadership of Trade Union Federations, he said: “The mining sector in our country has been in turmoil and in some instances there has been lots of loss of life.
“Many people were of the view that mining industry is on a decline. I was then asked by the president to try and bring all relevant stakeholders in the mining sector to try and bring some stability.
“In the main my task was to try and ensure that mine workers exercise their bargaining rights without fear of victimisation and that organised labour movements are able to embark on their activities free from violence. In this regard, we had to bring everybody together around the table to agree on path to restore stability in the mining sector.”
A separate AMCU strike, in the gold sector, had also been planned for Thursday but was delayed following a court ruling.