A number of mine workers have been kept from surfacing since Wednesday’s morning shift at Harmony Gold’s Kusasalethu as 1,700 employees were reported by the company as staging an unprotected sit-in.

Leaders from the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which represents 70% of the mine’s 4,700 employees, have met with management and gone 2.4km underground to talk to workers.

“Formal demands have been received, which include payment of a special bonus, the removal of the general manager and an assurance that disciplinary action would not be pursued,” the company said.

“Management has continued to appeal to employees to return to surface in the interests of safety and health, and to engage on the issues of concern through established processes.”

Mine management had sent fruit and water underground to the employees. The company also said that eighteen employees who were suffering severe fatigue and dehydration had been brought to the surface and had received medical treatment.

A company source said up to 40 workers who had been at the bottom of the main shaft and the tunnel leading to a subvertical shaft a few hundred metres away had found their way to higher levels and escaped.

“Harmony CEO, Peter Steenkamp, has appealed to Amcu  to continue displaying responsible leadership and to work with management to resolve the situation swiftly and safely,” the company said.

At up to 3.4km below ground, the mine is Harmony’s deepest and generated 124,198oz in the 2016 financial year, making it the third-largest source of gold for Harmony.

It was difficult to tell at this stage if there was intimidation or whether all 1,700 employees had remained underground voluntarily since the end of the morning shift on Wednesday, Harmony spokeswoman Charmane Russell said.

Kusasalethu has been the scene of labour unrest over recent years.

The operation has been scaled back to focus on only the high-grade portions of the ore body, shortening its life to just five years from more than 20 as Harmony tries to return the loss-making mine to profit.

Harmony has set a production target of 1.5-million ounces in three years to replace ageing mines that will be closed, taking 200,000oz from its profile. With Reuters

Please sign in or register to comment.