Num eyes extended strike at South Deep as buildings burn

Gold Fields’ South Deep mine
Gold Fields’ South Deep mine

The National Union of Mineworkers (Num) has vowed to strike for more than two months at the loss-making South Deep gold mine to further its demands for no retrenchments at the operation.

Thulani Mashibini, Num South Deep branch secretary, told City Press that the union, which started its protected strike last Friday at 5pm, could strike for “two months of more – depending on the company”.

The strike effectively halts work at the mine and puts the retrenchment process on hold.

The Num has previously threatened to strike if one worker was retrenched and as soon as South Deep issued letters of retrenchment last week – the union issued the company with a strike notice.

On Monday night, buildings were burnt down at the South Deep mine, which is located west of Johannesburg and is owned by Gold Fields.

Trade union Uasa’s gold mining representative, Nico van Rooyen, said three buildings at the mine – including Uasa’s offices – were burnt down last night.

“I don’t think the company expected things to get violent. We were escorted into the mine last night to see our offices in a Casper. Things are extremely tense,” he added.

Uasa represents about 500 people at the mine, including miners, artisans and officials, and hasn’t joined the strike by the Num members.

Mashibini said he had no information about what transpired regarding the burning of the buildings.

He said the strike “was going very well and receiving support from employees who are not affected”.

He said that on Tuesday the mine was peaceful and workers were picketing.

Since the strike had started there had been no communication or meetings with the South Deep management, Mashibini said.

“There are no employees proceeding underground and the management team is using security vehicles to go underground,” he added.

On Monday, there was a confrontation between the striking workers and mine security that resulted in two striking female workers getting hit with rubber bullets and ending up in hospital, Mashibini said.

“Gold Fields has drawn first blood.”

On Sunday, Gold Fields said the Num had accused Gold Fields of “aggression” and suggested that the presence of security on mine premises was a “provocation”.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” the company added.

Gold Fields said production at its South Deep mine has been stopped as a result of strike action by the Num.

“Only limited essential services teams are working at the mine,” the company said.

“With the commencement of the strike a small group of around 150-200 Num members blockaded entrances to South Deep, where they prevented employees reporting for work. There have been extensive reports of intimidation of employees, and also incidents of damage to property. The group have also blocked access to national roads. As a direct result of the Num’s actions, the company applied for and obtained a court interdict yesterday [Sunday 3 November] against the violent and unlawful actions and damage to property by branch members,” the company said.

“In view of the intimidation and violence, and to ensure the safety of employees who want to work, South Deep has temporarily advised all non-striking employees not to come to work. It means that production will be stopped until the situation has normalised and it is safe for our people to return to work,” Gold Fields added.

On August 14, South Deep announced it was looking to cut up to 1560 jobs as a result of continuing losses.

The job cuts could consist of 1100 permanent employees and 460 contractors, out of a total workforce of more than 5600 people who work at South Deep.

For the 2016 financial year, South Deep incurred losses of more than R109 million a month, according to a noticed issued by South Deep in August.

Gold Fields has invested R32 billion, including the acquisition price of R22 billion, since acquiring South Deep.

The company said that last week South Deep sent retrenchment letters to about 1 100 employees, around 30% of the mine’s workforce out of a total workforce of more than 5 500.

“The mine has reduced the number of contractors by approximately 420 people. Gold Fields is concerned that the Num branch has misled employees about the potential outcomes of a strike. The current retrenchment process is being undertaken in line with legislation and collective agreements. South Deep is not in a position to reverse the decision,” Gold Fields said.

“Before the strike, the mine was losing – on average – R3 million per day. For every day where there is no production, the losses could worsen, further imperiling the mine’s operation and leading to even more job losses,” the company added.

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