Gold Fields, NUM job-loss talks deadlock

CityPress - - Business - LESETJA MALOPE lesetja.malope@city­press.co.za

More than 1 500 mine work­ers at Gold Fields’ South Deep mine on the West Rand could spend the fes­tive sea­son with no work af­ter talks be­tween the ma­jor­ity union and the mine dead­locked.

The mine an­nounced in Au­gust it would re­trench 1 102 per­ma­nent work­ers and 460 con­trac­tors.

Hav­ing un­der­gone the pro­ce­dural con­sul­ta­tion pro­cesses, the par­ties failed to agree on a way for­ward and it now seems un­avoid­able that jobs will be lost.

When the mine is­sued sev­er­ance no­tices to the 1 102 work­ers two weeks ago, the unions an­nounced a strike, which started two days later.

This week ten­sion erupted and two build­ings were burnt down. Gold Fields ac­cused the Na­tional Union of Minework­ers (NUM) of burn­ing the build­ings.

It also ac­cused union mem­bers of as­sault­ing work­ers who tried to go to work.

Mine spokesper­son Sven Lun­sche said that last Sun­day a group of protesters at­tacked a South Deep pro­tec­tion ser­vices lightar­moured ve­hi­cle, which was trans­port­ing se­cu­rity em­ploy­ees.

“The protesters threw rocks at the ve­hi­cle and at­tacked it with pan­gas and other home­made weapons, threat­en­ing the em­ploy­ees in­side,” he said.

“The strike ac­tion is pur­port­edly to head off the nec­es­sary re­trench­ment of 1 500 em­ploy­ees and con­trac­tors. If the strike is pro­longed, it will put the re­main­ing 3 500 jobs at South Deep at risk,” Lun­sche said, adding that be­fore the strike the mine was los­ing R3 mil­lion a day.

Shortly be­fore speak­ing at a union meet­ing at the mine’s premises this week, NUM branch chair­per­son Kanetso Mata­bane de­nied the union was re­spon­si­ble for burn­ing down the build­ings.

He and fel­low union United As­so­ci­a­tion of South Africa (Uasa) had re­ceived in­tim­i­dat­ing text mes­sages from Gold Fields’ vi­cepres­i­dent Ben­ford Mokoa­tle.

“Our re­la­tion­ship [with Uasa] is very good. Even the agree­ments we sign we do so jointly. We don’t have is­sues with Uasa. Some of their mem­bers are join­ing us on the strike.

“There is no com­mu­ni­ca­tion at all with man­age­ment ex­cept we are re­ceiv­ing threat­en­ing SMSes. We are try­ing to in­volve the govern­ment and DMR [the mineral re­sources depart­ment] hop­ing that they will be able to con­vene the par­ties,” he said.

Mata­bane said among the is­sues raised by the com­pany against the union was that the mem­bers were mo­bil­is­ing lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. This had oc­curred af­ter one of the ANC al­liance part­ners’ of­fice bear­ers from the com­mu­nity spoke at a meet­ing of the union.

“We pro­posed that there must be proper face­time man­age­ment, which is the time the worker spends on trav­el­ling to the workplace.

“The in­fra­struc­ture also does not sup­port the min­ing method we use. We have con­ven­tional in­fra­struc­ture but it is a mech­a­nised mine,” he said, adding that the union pro­posed that al­most 1 400 work­ers who haven’t taken leave in a few years take the leave to avoid the com­pany hav­ing to pay for it.

“What be­came clear is that man­age­ment was not in­ter­ested in min­imis­ing the num­ber of re­trench­ments.

“They came with the de­ci­sion taken al­ready. They con­sulted in bad faith,” Mata­bane said.

The union has pro­posed to man­age­ment that the num­ber of con­trac­tors be min­imised and over­time be man­aged, he said. He ac­cused man­age­ment of not hav­ing con­fi­dence in South African labour be­cause it had pre­vi­ously brought in Aus­tralian ar­ti­sans to op­er­ate ma­chines. This was sup­posed to be a skills trans­fer pro­gramme but he claimed the mine did not hire the peo­ple who ben­e­fited from the pro­gramme.

Lun­sche said if there was ground to sue both the union and the union lead­ers, the com­pany would do so.

Mata­bane said the work­ers weren’t go­ing any­where and if Gold Fields could not run the mine, it should surrender the min­ing rights to the govern­ment and other busi­nesses would take it over.

The com­pany bought the mine in 2006 and two years later re­trenched 1 800 work­ers. It now em­ploys about 5 500 work­ers.

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