Gold Fields helpless as labour crisis deepens

[] – GOLD Fields is in an extremely precarious situation.
The illegal strike at its KDC West mine, which has now spread to Beatrix, will mean
that it falls well short of its already-lowered production guidance of 3.4 million ounces
for its 2012 financial year.

The bind, however, is there’s very little that Gold Fields can do to resolve the impasse
at the mines even though it’s losing 2,100 oz of production per day (and has already
lost just under 20,000 oz – equal to R282m in revenue).

Willie Jacobsz, spokesperson for Gold Fields, confirms that the company has interdicts
for KDC West and Beatrix West and that an application for a third interdict for the rest
of Beatrix is in the pipeline. This will enable Gold Fields to dismiss striking workers,
calculated to total 24,000 employees.

But it dare not issue them. It dare not throw tinder on a complex and tense labour
environment that, to all intent and purposes, is not principally about the employer.
The initial dispute at KDC West was around dismissing the local branch
representatives of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

Only after this demand, following Lonmin’s settlement at Marikana, was a R12,500 per
month demand thrown into the mix (Beatrix workers have since upped the wages ante
to a basic minimum demand of R16,000 per month).

Secondly, given the fact that the NUM appears to be fighting for its life at the gold
mines, Gold Fields dare not intervene in negotiations that appear to be between
unaligned, self-appointed labour leaders and NUM representatives. Were Gold Fields
to take up the negotiating cudgels, it would surely sideline NUM and put its labour
structures into balance.

Thirdly, settling with labour at the levels demanded wouldn’t only trigger
retrenchments at its mines, but also put AngloGold Ashanti – and most of the
remainder of the gold industry ’ in a difficult position. It doesn’t want a repeat of
Lonmin’s desperation settlement that raised hopes that other platinum miners could
reap the same reward for illegal strike action.

“We are seriously reviewing all our options, including the interdicts,’ says Jacobsz.
Gold Fields has to say something, but the dispute at its mines seems to have the soul
of the labour movement at its heart.

Having dispatched himself to intercede, Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu’s General Secretary,
has only underlined NUM’s neutered position. He said on Friday that peace had been
brokered. It has not and raises the inevitable “quo vadis’ regarding NUM’s future.

Worryingly, Government appears to be a bystander. It has provided the security that
means the situation at Gold Fields’ mines is peaceful but requests for further
reinforcements have so far been ignored. More to the point, there appears to be no
political leadership as the latest instalment in South Africa’s mine labour crisis rolls