File picture.

Johannesburg -

An agreement has been reached between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Gold Fields on a new operating model at South Deep, near Johannesburg, the gold producer said on Tuesday.

Chief executive Nick Holland said the agreement indicated that there was room for constructive collaboration in South African labour relations.

“This agreement will define the future of South Deep and position it to become one of the most modern underground mechanised mines both locally and internationally.”

The agreement would secure existing jobs at the mine and would create 400 new full-time positions. It also resulted in the withdrawal of retrenchment notices.

Under the agreement, underground workers in the A Four to C Five categories would work 12-hour rotation shifts of four days on and four days off, followed by four nights on then four nights off.

Food and drinks would be provided during the hour-long, mid-shift break.

From next year, the mine would shut for eight days from December 23, translating into an in effect 12-day Christmas break for each worker.

The changes would add five working hours a day to South Deep's operations, and seven more production days a year.

Workers would work about 50 days less a year.

In addition, existing bonus schemes for underground employees would be discontinued to make way for a new, uncapped productivity-linked bonus scheme.

Market allowances for operators and artisans in the mechanised section would be discontinued and those affected would receive up-front compensation.

The employee grading system would be aligned with work performed and industry benchmarks and would be refined to allow for career progression. It would apply only to new appointments.

Engagement structures, including the Operational Leadership Forum and Skills Development Forum, would remain unchanged.

The implementation of the new operating model would cost about R170 million.

Holland said it was an appropriate investment.

“It will lead to more productive working arrangements, (a) line-of-sight bonus system that aligns employees with business objectives, as well as competitive grading and compensation systems.”

At Gold Fields' KDC West and Beatrix mines, however, most workers remained on strike, spokesman Sven Lunsche said.

Around 15,000 people work at KDC West, and a further 9000 at Beatrix.

There were isolated reports of intimidation, but no major violence.

Gold Fields obtained urgent interdicts last month for KDC West and Beatrix West in an attempt to force strikers to return to work.

“We have not yet used our interdict, although that remains an option,” Lunsche said. - Sapa