Blame for instances of violence and intimidation swung back and forth between Gold Fields and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) after the first weekend of the union’s industrial action at the company’s South Deep operations.
NUM branch leaders at Gold Fields [JSE:GFL] told Fin24 that their strike did not bring any threats of violence, but that violence came from security personnel that employers assigned to the operation.
Gold Fields has long acknowledged that production would suffer as a result of this strike and told Fin24 that the strike would cost the company in the order of R3m for each day that it continued.
While NUM claims that two workers were hospitalised after being run over with a motor vehicle and shot at with rubber bullets, Gold Fields denies knowledge of this, adding that all violence was perpetrated by striking workers and the company acted in self-defence.
NUM South Deep branch secretary Thulani Mashibini said the strike, which officially started on Friday afternoon, got off to a great start, but that striking members were being visited with violence by private security service providers acting on the mine’s orders.
"The court interdict talks about the blockages of roads, burning of tyres, allowing essential service staff. But we educated our members to say we don’t need to block roads, although we are allowed to picket on company premises. The workers are behaving very well," said Mashibini.
Mashibini said the company was devising plans to undermine the impact of the strike so that they could ignore the legitimate demands of the union for as long as possible.
"We have seen that kind of tendency, and members are being called from various areas and being convinced to come to work in armoured vehicles. The outsourcing is the company attempting to reduce labour costs as much as possible," Mashibini said.
Mashibini said the union was expecting feedback from the South African Police Service on the conduct of private security personnel, including claims that workers were hospitalised after being run over and shot at with rubber bullets.
"There is a statement where the company claims that there is no truth to our claims that this is a peaceful strike. As we speak, two people had to undergo surgery. The honest intention of the employer should be to promote safety and security in the work place," said Mashibini.
However, Gold Fields spokesperson Sven Lunsche told Fin24 that if anyone was perpetrating violence during the strike, it was striking NUM members. He insisted that where private security acted, it was out of self-defence.
"The strike is fully legal, but the interdict awarded to the company is aimed at stopping blockages from work for those employees who would like to report for duty. No workers have been coming to the mine besides essential services. We tried to get these to work but a car they were transported in was stopped and overturned," said Lunsche.
Lunsche said the mine had no information that anyone had been hospitalised with serious injuries since the beginning of the strike. The company is getting security from a combination of private security company G4S and its own private security personnel.