JOHANNESBURG – Gold Fields on Wednesday sweetened the retrenchment packages of 1 500 employees in a last-ditch attempt to end the three-week strike by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) at its troubled South Deep mine in Carletonville.

Chief executive Nick Holland told journalists yesterday the new offer would include additional four weeks' pay for service and the up-skill of affected workers to prepare them to get jobs elsewhere. Holland said the union has until Friday to accept the offer.

He said the company had pinned its hope on the sweetener as 1 900 employees had indicated their willingness to return to work via SMS. “There is no turning back in the retrenchment process,” he said. “We are now focusing on how do we get the 4 000 remaining employees back to work.”

Holland said affected workers would also get an additional month to the severance packages and would not have to face a hefty deduction for participating in the strike.

He said the deduction would be done over four months.

Hollard said the sweetener would cost R40 million more than the R180m the company had already paid in retrenchment packages.

Since August, Gold Fields has retrenched 1 082 employees and 420 contractors at the South Deep mine.

The mine has been unable to transition from a conventional to a mechanised operation since Gold Fields acquired it in 2006 for R22 billion.

The mine had been losing R100m a month despite several initiatives to boost productivity, including hiring engineers from Australia.

Since the strike began this month, South Deep has been losing R6m a day in production while employees have lost R70m in wages.

On Monday Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe accused Gold Fields of negotiating in bad faith in the process of retrenching the employees.

Holland admitted that shareholders were losing patience with the mine.

“There are some shareholders who have lost belief in the asset,” he said. “We believe the restructuring will reposition the mine.” Holland said the retrenchments were a final resort.

“We believe we have operated in good faith. We understand the level of frustration by the minister, given the fact the industry has not been growing over the years,” said Holland.

The union was not immediately available for comment.