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Mining Company,  Miners Return to Talks in Ghana

Labor and management from mining company AngloGold Ashanti are back in negotiations, after the union stopped work at the company's two mines in Ghana earlier this week.

Ghana's National Labor Commission stepped in and got the two sides to return to negotiations. Five-thousand employees who had assembled outside the mines are also back at work while the parties discuss compensation.

One of the issues is the pay gap between foreign and local workers. Union deputy Eric Gyima says his organization had to get involved to bring the lower salaries of Ghanaian mineworkers closer to their foreign colleagues' pay.

"We believe that as a trade organization we cannot sit unconcerned and allow these glaring imbalances and injustices, unfairness, to continue," he said.

The mineworkers' union says some foreign employees are paid almost thirty times more than a Ghanaian doing the same job. AngloGold Ashanti vice president for Ghana, Keith Faulkner, says it is unfortunate, but that is how they have to do business.

"You need to compete on the international market for an international skill, then you have to pay an international salary. It does cause angst and grief because it is disparate, there is a gap and everybody in the industry knows that," he said.

Gyima says union members understand the general market situation.

"We are not saying pay us the salary you pay to, you know, the administrators or that you pay to the bosses. That is not the point. But we believe there might be a fair distribution in incomes so far as AngloGold's income policy is concerned," he said.

Gold is Ghana's largest export. AngloGold Ashanti reported record earnings of $167 million in the second quarter - an 11 percent increase over the start of the year on the strength of improved production from mines in Ghana and Tanzania.

Beyond the dispute over salary inequality in Ghana, there is also the issue of whether pay rates should be determined in dollars or in the local currency, Cedis.

Under the current system, salaries are first quoted in dollars and then paid to workers in cedis. That way workers are more protected from a shaky local economy. Now, the company wants to determine the salaries in cedis from the start. Faulkner says that makes more sense given the local economy.

"We should always be looking at the equity of their earnings with relation to the local economy. With the purchasing power, with the forces on them and adjust wages and salaries appropriately," he said.

Faulkner says when AngloGold converts workers' salaries from dollars to local currency, the workers benefit when the exchange rate is good for the dollar, but sometimes they lose money if the exchange rate falls. He says rising inflation this year has also made paying workers more expensive.

The union is suspicious that AngloGold Ashanti is just trying to save money. Gyima says workers want to keep the current payment system.

The Mineworkers Union and AngloGold Ashanti both say they hope to finish negotiations as soon as possible. Union members say they are prepared to strike in the next two weeks if the differences are not resolved.