As a born and bred South African, and somebody who has always been proudly South African, it is with great sadness and fear that I read about the worsening mining crisis in South Africa. Sadness, because I know that the writing is on the wall, things are spiraling out of control, and that if the strikes do not stop, they will accelerate job losses and risk the closure of many mines, that are already operating on tight margins. And fear for those living in my country of birth, which I hold so dear to my heart.
From the reports that I have been reading, it appears that there are now over 100 000 miners caught up in these illegal strikes, which has triggered what could be the biggest crisis in South Africa’s mining history.
South Africa is a country plagued with unemployment and poverty, and is a desperately unequal society. An enormous percentage of the South African population is either not working or if they are, they are in the informal sector where salaries are generally low. Farm workers in South Africa can earn as little as R 1 500 – R 2 000 a month (approximately $240 per month). Compare this to the extremely high executive and skilled salaries paid in South Africa and you get one of the world’s worst income distributions. It is not uncommon in South Africa, for its skilled workers and executives to earn salaries equal to those in similar roles in the US, Canada and Australia.
So where do South African miners fit into the equation?
If you compare South African miner’s salaries to major developing world countries, such as China and India, then South African miners are not doing too badly in the pay stakes, and they appear to be earning slightly more than some of the Chinese and Indian miners. At around R 6 000 a month (which is roughly $ 730 per month) they are in a better position than many other miners in developing countries. However when you compare the salaries of South African miners to developed countries such as Australia, Canada and the USA, then South African miner’s salaries really are dismal.
To put things into perspective, according to the results of our salary survey, a miner in Canada with 6 – 10 years’ experience will earn a base pay (excluding benefits) of around $4150K a month. This is nearly six times what a miner in South Africa would be earning. Whereas if you compare the salaries of professional, skilled workers in South Africa, such as an Engineering Manager, they would be earning roughly the same, as what they would be earning in Canada.
So the bottom line is, South African miners are earning substantially less than those doing the same work in developed countries. However if you compare what they are earning to others in South Africa such as farm workers, and those in the informal sector, they are not doing too badly, particularly in a country rife with unemployment, poverty and despair.
To add to the already desperate situation that the mining industry in South Africa finds itself in, the demands that the mine workers are making, are not just about money. There is simmering resentment and anger amongst these miners around the horrible and dangerous working conditions many of them find work in, as well as the long hours and the lack of overtime pay
So whilst the debate continues, if anything positive can be drawn from what’s happening, it is that the horrific conditions and meager pay provided to the miner, is being brought to light. Sadly, at the same time, the country is being bought to its knees, and one can’t help but wonder where it’s all going to end…..