Johannesburg, South Africa — MININGREVIEW.COM — 09 July 2008 – The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has announced its intention to down tools at a date to be set in August to protest against the mounting rate of workers’ deaths at Gold Fields’ four gold mining operations in South Africa.
Reuters reports that Gold Fields – the world’s fourth biggest gold producer – has so far suffered well over a quarter of South Africa’s 85 mine fatalities this year.
NUM health and safety head Peter Bailey told the news agency that the union would seek a strike permit from authorities, in a bid to highlight the crisis and force the company to focus on safety. “The strike could be in mid-August at the latest, or it could be sooner depending on how fast we can prepare,” he said.
“It will affect all four Gold Fields operations. You have to take into cognisance the workers that have been killed at the company’s mines,” he added. “We have to bring to the attention of the public and investors how this company is run.”
Bailey said NUM intended to bus the company’s workers to demonstrate at Gold Fields’ offices in Johannesburg.
South Africa – a major producer of gold and the world’s top source of platinum – suffered more mine deaths last year than the year before, and the 320 000-strong NUM staged a national one-day strike in December to persuade firms to focus on safety.
Gold Fields spokesman Daniel Thole said the company had not yet received notice of any official dispute from NUM, and therefore could not make a substantive comment at this stage.
According to Gold Fields records, 23 workers have died at its South African operations between January and June this year. Company CEO Nick Holland is on record as saying safety was the group’s top priority, and that he has commissioned an external safety audit of its operations.
Reuters points out that a strike in August would hurt Gold Fields output in a month that may see further strike action with the country’s labour federation, COSATU, calling its affiliates, including NUM, to down tools in protest against rising food, fuel, and electricity prices, as well as soaring interest rates.