CARLETONVILLE, SOUTH AFRICA (Reuters) — South Africa's Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) will launch a wildcat strike if its rival union and gold mining companies impose a wage deal on its members, its president said on Sunday.
"If NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) and Chamber of Mines want to extend their deal to us, we will sit down, whether it's legal or not. We will strike," Joseph Mathunjwa said to cheers from thousands of workers gathered at a stadium in Carletonville, 80 km (50 miles) west of Johannesburg.
Under South African labour laws, wage deals between the majority union and employers can be extended to smaller unions.
The hardline AMCU union is demanding a more than doubling of wages from gold companies AngloGold Ashanti, Sibanye Gold, Harmony Gold and Pan African Resource's Evander Mines.
About 10,000 AMCU members wearing trademark green t-shirts, waving the union's flags and carrying placards with slogans such as "A Living Wage For All" streamed into the stadium outside Sibanye Gold's Driefontein mine.
"I've been saving money to sustain my family for months if we go on strike and it looks we are going to go strike," Joseph Mpele, a 32-year-old underground miner for Sibanye Gold said outside the stadium.
"I'm prepared and ready to stay away from work for even longer than my platinum comrades last year. What's the point of going back to work when I'm not happy with my pay?"
AMCU, which has 29 per cent of the workforce in the gold sector, led a five-month wage strike last year in the platinum sector. Gold sector wage talks are set to begin this month as the previous two-year pay agreement expires at the end of June.
The 2013 wage deal signed by NUM, with 54 per cent of members in the gold mining sector, was extended to AMCU.
Profit margins in the gold industry are under pressure, with commodity prices hit by a strengthening dollar and demand weakened by the economic slowdown in China.
The NUM is demanding a 84 per cent increase in wages for its members. The union is trying to hold on to power in the gold sector after it lost the top spot to AMCU in the platinum industry.
The record platinum stoppage last year, in which AMCU also called for a doubling of wages, slowed growth in Africa's most advanced economy and forced the strike-hit companies to restructure assets and put some mines up for sale.
The NUM ousted its general secretary on Friday highlighting the frustrations of members after losing thousands of members in a bloody turf war to AMCU.