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Gold Fields helpless as labour crisis deepens

Gold Fields’
Beatrix mine
Johannesburg, South Africa — 26 September 2012 – Major South African gold producer Gold Fields is in an extremely precarious situation “’ the illegal strike at its KDC West mine, which has now spread to Beatrix mine, will mean that it falls well short of its already-lowered production guidance of 3.4Moz for its 2012 financial year.

Miningmx reports that the bind, however, is that there’s very little that Gold Fields can do to resolve the impasse at the mines, even though it’s losing 2,100oz of production per day and has already lost just under 20,000oz – equal to R282 million in revenue.

Gold Fields spokesperson Willie Jacobsz confirms that the company has interdicts for KDC West and Beatrix West, and that an application for a third interdict for the rest of Beatrix is in the pipeline. This will enable Gold Fields to dismiss striking workers, calculated to total 24,000 employees.

But it dare not issue them. It dare not throw tinder on a complex and tense labour environment that, to all intent and purposes, is not principally about the employer. The initial dispute at KDC West was around dismissing the local branch representatives of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

Only after this demand, following Lonmin’s settlement at Marikana, was a R12,500 per month demand thrown into the mix. Beatrix workers have since upped the wages ante to a basic minimum demand of R16,000 per month).

Secondly, given the fact that the NUM appears to be fighting for its life at the gold mines, Gold Fields dare not intervene in negotiations that appear to be between unaligned, self-appointed labour leaders and NUM representatives. Were Gold Fields to take up the negotiating cudgels, it would surely sideline NUM and put its labour structures into balance.

Thirdly, settling with labour at the levels demanded wouldn’t only trigger retrenchments at its mines, but also put AngloGold Ashanti – and most of the remainder of the gold industry, in a difficult position. It doesn’t want a repeat of Lonmin’s desperation settlement that raised hopes that other platinum miners could reap the same reward for illegal strike action.

“We are seriously reviewing all our options, including the interdicts,” says Jacobsz. Gold Fields has to say something, but the dispute at its mines seems to have the soul of the labour movement at its heart.

Worryingly, Government appears to be a bystander. It has provided the security that means the situation at Gold Fields’ mines is peaceful, but requests for further reinforcements have so far been ignored. More to the point, there appears to be no political leadership as the latest instalment in South Africa’s mine labour crisis rolls on.

Source: Miningmx. For more information, click here.