NUM said that they will down tools on Friday after Gold Fields announced that they were letting go of 1 100 workers from its South Deep operation. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya.

JOHANNESBURG – Gold Fields said on Thursday that it might half operations at its South Deep operations in Gauteng after it received a 48-hour notice by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) of its intention to embark on a protected strike to protest retrenchments of 1 100 more workers at the mine. 

Gold Fields, one of the world’s largest gold mining firms, commenced a Section 189 process with the mine's two registered trade unions in August to retrench up to 1 560 employees at its South Deep operation.

Gold Fields said that consultations with the branch leadership of the two unions have been extensive with various options explored to improve the sustainability of the mine and limit job losses since the section 189 process was initiated. South Deep employed 3 614 full-time employees and 2 214 contractors prior to the section 189 process. 

Gold Fields said that 177 employees had taken up offers of voluntary severance packages, but the mine still has to reduce its workforce by about 1 100 staff members and retrenchment letters were sent to these employees on Wednesday. In addition, the mine will reduce the number of contractors by about 420 people. 

The gold miner said the selection criteria used to determine which employees would be affected were part of the Section 189 consultations and included length of service, performance and competency criteria and attendance records. 

    

The NUM strike is set to commence Friday afternoon. About 80 percent of the mine's workforce are members of the union and should the strike proceed, Gold Fields said it is expected to impact adversely on production during its duration. 

Nick Holland, Gold Fields chief executive, said they have reached a critical stage in the restructuring at South Deep, which follows on previous unsuccessful initiatives to improve productivity."

"The restructuring will help to reduce the risk of continuing operating losses and consolidates the current mining operations as a first step to building a sustainable, long-term operation. Unfortunately, the retrenchments and the reduction in contractor numbers have become essential to ensure this and save the remaining 3 500 jobs," Holland said. 

"South Deep has a substantial and well-understood ore body and we believe that we can bring this into profitable production over the next few years which will benefit all stakeholders, including the Westonaria communities and the South African government."

Holland said the safety of employees is paramount and, if deemed necessary, South Deep would also consider cessation of production for a limited period of time. The "no work, no pay" principle will apply for the strike. 

"We respect the laws that allow for a peaceful, legal strike, but we are very concerned about the further impact that industrial action will have on the mine - and on our employees, with potentially more job losses," Holland said. 

African News Agency (ANA)