010508 This is the Gold Fields at South Deep mine where nine miners were killed in a lift conveyer rope accident Thursday.01 Picture:Sizwe Ndingane

Johannesburg - Gold Fields plans to cut 13 percent of the workforce at the South Deep mine as it attempts to get the development of its key South African project back on track, a labour union said.

“We are told that more than 500 workers might be affected,” Frans Baleni, general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, said in a statement today.

The union rejects any job losses at the mine, he said.

Gold Fields employs about 4,000 people at South Deep and an additional 1,700 to 1,800 contractors, chief executive Nick Holland said yesterday.

The Johannesburg-based company is reducing the amount of people and equipment it uses to “decongest” the mine and make it more efficient, Holland said.

Gold Fields has said South Deep, the world’s second-largest gold deposit, is its “most important value driver.”

The mine has been beset by delays and safety problems since its inception in 1990.

The company, which bought the mine for $3 billion in 2006, hired a team of 15 Australian experts earlier this year to better mechanise the operation and train employees.

Holland declined to comment on the number of jobs being cut on a conference call yesterday, saying talks with NUM were at a “sensitive” stage.

Sven Lunsche, a spokesman for Gold Fields, declined to add to his comments today.

Two people died in and near underground workshops earlier this month, prompting a safety review by the Department of Mineral Resources and a halt to most production.

Gold Fields is separately doing four months of work to strengthen pathways within the mine.

The two procedures mean South Deep will lose about 64,300 ounces of gold production, 16 percent of the mine’s total for 2013, the company said yesterday. - Bloomberg News