Mines go for broke as gold prices plummet

2013-06-30 14:01

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With the rand gold price tumbling and wage talks on the horizon, mining firms face a severe crisis

The gold price kept tumbling this week, casting an increasingly dark shadow over the industry’s imminent wage talks.

Based on their most recent financial reports, the top three local gold miners – AngloGold Ashanti, Sibanye Gold and Harmony Gold – are all facing a severe crisis at current gold prices.

The rand gold price fell from R440?000 per kilogram last week to a low of R377?000 per kilogram on Thursday evening – well beneath the average all-in mining costs of Harmony and approaching the breakeven level of Sibanye.

The gold mines negotiating through the Chamber of Mines did finally announce the timeline for negotiations this week after receiving the demands of Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu).

First, they will meet unions on July?8 for a “prenegotiation workshop” to determine the protocol for the first negotiations since democracy where the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) will be sharing its mandate to negotiate for the lower job categories covering the majority of the industry’s 138?276 workers.

The real negotiations will start on July 11, the Chamber of Mines said in a statement.

Amcu’s demand sheet echoes that of the NUM in many respects. Both unions in effect demand that the total cost to company of so-called category four workers jump from just over R10?000 a month to about R26?000 a month.

These workers represent 50% of the workforce.

The World Gold Council, a body representing gold mining companies internationally, chose this week to release a new global standard for reporting mines’ “all-in sustaining” costs.

The measure aims to demonstrate that gold mines are not, in fact, making money and follows on Gold Fields’ recent practice of reporting the “notional cash expenditure” it makes for every ounce of gold it produces.

Local gold mines have been adopting variants of this standard in order to counter claims that they are hoarding millions in profits instead of tending to workers’ and communities’ demands on them.

The main difference between normal and “all-in” costs is the inclusion of capital expenditure, which eats up a large proportion of a deep-level mine’s cash – mostly simply to maintain production levels.

Nick Holland, chief executive of Gold Fields and the populariser of the more expansive cost reporting, this week said that the gold industry requires a gold price of $1?500 per ounce to sustain itself.

On Friday, the yellow metal was trading at about $1?200.

In the platinum sector, Aquarius Platinum this week announced the first wage deal of the year – a surprisingly normal raise of “slightly above” inflation.

The company’s Kroondal mine, near Rustenburg in North West, is one of the few in the platinum sector where the NUM has not been displaced by new union Amcu.

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