updated 8/7/2005 4:24:23 PM ET 2005-08-07T20:24:23

Thousands of miners stopped work Sunday evening for the first strike in South Africa’s key gold sector since 1987 after wage negotiations collapsed last week.

The strike is expected to cost the industry up to $20 million (130 million rands) a day, according to the Chamber of Mines, which represents employers.

The National Union of Mineworkers said up to 80,000 workers were expected to join the strike, which started at the beginning of the evening shift. The major gold companies could not immediately confirm the figure.

Some 10,000 members from the Solidarity union are due to join the strike on Monday afternoon and may be joined by members of a third union later in the week.

The chamber is offering pay hikes of 4.5 percent and 5 percent, depending on the position. The unions argue this is less than the increase in cost of living, which they put at 5.7 percent.

The NUM is demanding increases of between 7 percent and 8 percent, down from earlier demands of 10 percent to 12 percent, and other benefits.

The gold industry is one of South Africa’s main export earners.

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