South African Miners Return to AngloGold as Strikes Fade

AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., South Africa’s biggest gold producer, said workers returned to its operations as wildcat strikes at the country’s gold mines fade in the face of threats of mass dismissals.

“There is a full and normal turnout at all operations,” Alan Fine, a spokesman for the Johannesburg-based company, said by phone. It hadn’t yet distributed dismissal notices to workers. Gold Fields Ltd. will next week notify 7,300 employees who appealed their firings on Oct. 23 whether they have jobs, said Sven Lunsche, a spokesman.

Strikes that began at platinum mines and spread to gold, chrome, coal and iron ore have hurt operators already grappling with rising costs. The walkouts have cut South Africa’s mining production by 10.1 billion rand ($1.16 billion) this year, curbing tax revenue, exports and jobs, the National Treasury said in its mid-term budget released in Cape Town yesterday

Anglo American Platinum Ltd., the world’s largest producer of the metal, yesterday lowered its full-year output forecast, citing the impact of the stoppages. South African mine output fell 3.3 percent in the year through August, with production of platinum group metals slumping 15 percent from a year earlier, the treasury said.

Gold Fields on Oct. 19 issued an ultimatum for workers to report for duty at its KDC East operations. AngloGold set a deadline for 12,000 of its employees this week and Harmony Gold Mining Co. followed with its own threat to fire 5,400 employees if they didn’t return. About 98 percent reported at the Kusasalethu mine and avoided dismissal, Harmony said yesterday.

Beatrix Mine

AngloGold faced a possible cut in its debt ratings to junk by Standard & Poor’s after most of its South African output was halted by strikes for more than a month.

“We’re very pleased,” Fine said about the end of the strike. “We will start slowly and carefully examine rock faces” before returning to full production, he said.

Gold Fields’ Beatrix mine is in full production and KDC West is returning to normal after walkouts at the sites ended last week, Lunsche said.

AngloGold dropped 1.3 percent to 280.49 rand at 4:02 p.m. in Johannesburg. Gold Fields fell 1.8 percent to 103.21 rand and Harmony was 1.1 percent lower at 70.93 rand.

“The strike has taken a toll economically and emotionally,” Frans Baleni, secretary-general for the National Union of Mineworkers, or NUM, said by phone. “It’s pleasing to see the workers back.”

Restructuring Concerns

Not all points of difference between workers and gold producers have been resolved, Baleni said. “There have been innuendos on restructuring and we need to find answers to that.” The NUM is also meeting with coal producers on Oct. 31, he said.

Gold producers represented by the Chamber of Mines signed an agreement with labor unions over changes to pay and job categories yesterday. The companies agreed last year to raise salaries by 7.5 percent to 10 percent for 2012. South Africa’s annual inflation rate was 5.5 percent in September.

The chamber agreement will see workers getting increases of 3 percent to 11 percent on top of those contained in an existing two-year wage accord, according to the NUM. The deal also moves entry-level workers to a higher pay category and includes allowances for rock drillers and other underground operators.

Kumba Iron Ore Ltd. has given employees who were dismissed until the end of the month to appeal, Gert Schoeman, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail response to questions. Fewer than 200 workers took part in an unauthorized strike, refusing to leave the Sishen operation and seizing 3.3 billion rand ($376 million) of mining equipment. This forced the company to shut production that’s since been restarted, Schoeman said.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions said General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi will address a rally in Rustenburg in north western South Africa tomorrow seeking the reinstatement of dismissed workers at all mining companies.

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