Gold Fields Fires 8,500 Miners as Employers Seek Pay Deal

Gold Fields Ltd. fired 8,500 workers at a South African mine operated by the fourth-biggest producer of the metal after they failed to heed an ultimatum to abandon a strike, and employers and unions sought to reach a deal on pay.

Workers dismissed from the KDC East mine may appeal, Willie Jacobsz, a spokesman for Gold Fields, said today by phone.

A spate of strikes that began in the platinum industry and spread to gold, chrome and iron-ore operations have hurt South African companies already grappling with rising costs and helped push up international prices for precious metals. Workers have walked out without heeding unions or laws on resolving disputes, prompting producers to issue threats to dismiss employees.

AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., the biggest African producer of the metal, has issued a “final call” for all striking workers to return to their duties by midday tomorrow. Those who don’t will be fired, the company said yesterday in a statement.

AngloGold, which gets about a third of its production from South Africa, shut all of its sites in the country last month.

The company and its peers improved a wage offer last week after unauthorized stoppages led to about a 40 percent drop in the nation’s gold operations, hurting Africa’s biggest economy.

Strikes at AngloGold have entered their fifth week, with the company losing about 32,000 ounces a week, Chief Executive Officer Mark Cutifani said on a call with investors yesterday. Before the unrest, the company had expected to reduce the size of some mines within five years as resources were depleted, according to the CEO, who said that “areas that were marginal in the first place will be under extra scrutiny.”

Restarting Mines

The company has managed to restart some mines as unions and the industry moved closer to a deal to end the wave of strikes.

More than 90 percent of workers are back at the Kopanang and Great Noligwa sites and a first shift has returned to Moab Khotsong this morning, Alan Fine, a company spokesman, said today by phone. While 16,500 staff were still out yesterday, “there are signs that some more workers are going back.”

Anglogold, Gold Fields and Harmony Gold Mining Co. agreed in principle on a deal and plan to sign an accord Oct. 25, the Chamber of Mines said in a statement late yesterday. The Chamber, an industry body that negotiates on behalf of employers, met labor groups including the National Union of Mineworkers after the offer was improved last week.

“Today’s discussions were positive and there is a collective resolve by all the parties to end the unprotected action as soon as possible,” Elize Strydom, the Chamber’s chief negotiator, said in yesterday’s statement.

As many as 46 people died in August, including dozens shot by police, as staff protested at Lonmin Plc’s Marikana platinum complex before it agreed to pay gains of as much as 22 percent.

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