Gold Fields' war of attrition
The miner has opted to play the waiting game against its striking workforce whilst mulling its dismissal options.
Posted: Friday , 28 Sep 2012
JOHANNESBURG (Mineweb) -
Gold Fields CEO, Nick Holland, has said the company will not be negotiating with illegal strikers and that, if need be, it can outlast its striking workforce.
"This is a war of attrition, if need be we can sit it out, we are financially very strong, we don't have to do anything anytime soon" said Holland in an interview with Moneyweb's Alec Hogg on SAFM radio Thursday.
Holland is hoping that the on-going strikers will be worn down through lack of financial means.
"They're not getting paid, the workers, that is also going to be unsustainable for them and that might be a strategy that we adopt for a while" said the CEO.
The gold digger finds itself in an intractable situation with the majority of the 15 000 strong workforce at its KDC West mine having embarked on strike action almost two and a half weeks ago and a further 9 000 employees at its Beatrix mine having downed tools on Monday.
Holland however understands that the stance currently adopted isn't sustainable.
"I think that if we don't act it will eventually result in a situation where we have safety as an issue anyway. So I don't think that we can wait too long on just sitting this thing out and we certainly won't" said a measured Holland.
Labour analyst, Andrew Levy, explained that the cost of doing nothing increases the risk and probability of a ‘Marikana' occurring.
The miner has obtained the necessary interdicts that will allow it to dismiss illegally striking employees and Holland doesn't rule this out as an option whilst being mindful of the safety risk and logistics involved.
"We're looking at all of the options all the time, if we are going to move on dismissals remember we're also talking about moving 15 000 people in a very concentrated area. We are going to need assistance to put that into place so I am mindful and concerned about safety" said Holland.
The company had appealed for support from the police, the minister of labour and the Department of Mineral Resources it said.
Levy was unhopeful of much support from the minister of labour however and scathingly referred to the minister's comments as ‘fatuous in the extreme'.
Holland speculated that there was more at play than mere wage demands. Pointing to the progression of demands during the strike action, Holland said that the first issue raised was the deduction of a funeral policy which was resolved. Then unhappiness with local branch leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on each mine and then only the wage demands surfaced.
"You wonder whether this thing is actually much bigger than all of us realise and the destabilisation that is taking place across the industry, in an industry that employs a lot of people, a very labour intensive sector, you almost wonder if there is something more at play here that is looking to destabilise the country. We can't put a finger on this and we can't really get any evidence to suggest that this is the case but it just seems to be co-ordinated to be much greater than the issues on the table seem to be" said Holland.
Holland is not the only mine executive to believe that the wage demands are concealing larger issues at play. Impala Platinum's human resources manager, Johan Theron, has previously referred to the wage demands as ‘red herrings'.
The demands Holland said are not only restricted to wage increases but also included the non-payment of tax on bonuses and lower taxes on wages.
"At first blush you might think well do you try and find a common ground, do you look at some kind of solution? But I don't think that there is a short term solution to this problem and just merely putting a wage deal on the table that another mining company may have agreed to we don't believe that is necessarily going to be the solution here" said Holland.