There was some relief this week for South Africa's beleaguered gold sector, with just under 10,000 workers heading back to their shifts after downing tools in illegal strikes. The gold price, meanwhile, was mostly flat, hemmed in between good economic news from the US and continued uncertainty in Europe.
Gold Fields (NYSE:GFI), the number-four gold producer that has been bedevilled by strikes at its South African mines, said Thursday that all 9,000 workers at its Beatrix mine have returned to work. The company issued an ultimatum on Tuesday, warning striking employees to show up for their shifts on Thursday or be sacked. Gold Fields has lost 65,000 ounces of gold production, or 1.2 billion rand, in revenue due to the illegal strikes, Reuters reported. On Monday, the bullion producer suspended output at its KDC operations after 8,500 workers joined a wildcat strike whose numbers have now swelled to around 19,500, or two-thirds of the mine's workforce. Meanwhile, workers at the Blyvooruitzicht mine, operated by Village Main Reef (OTC Pink:VMRFF), suspended an illegal strike and returned to work on Wednesday. "Most of the Blyvoor employees have honored the agreement, with 772 employees out of a complement of 941 reporting for the morning shift today," the company said in a statement. Another South African gold producer is continuing to hurt from a protracted strike at one of its gold mines. Gold One International (ASX:GDO) took a 6.1 percent hit to its stock price Tuesday after the Johannesburg company suspended the Ezulwini operation for 30 days following the dismissals of 1,417 workers. The dismissals followed a similar move by Anglo American Platinum (OTC Pink:AGPPY), which fired 12,000 workers for taking part in a three-week illegal strike. The nation's three largest gold producers — AngloGold Ashanti (NYSE:AU), Gold Fields and Harmony Gold Mining (NYSE:HMY) — are attempting to bring labor peace to South African's troubled mining sector by negotiating with unions, but so far the talks have not broken the impasse. Miners are seeking wage increases above the rate of inflation. The strikes have also affected chrome, platinum and iron ore mines. The labor disruptions reached a tragic nadir earlier this year after police clashes with striking platinum miners resulting in the death of 46 workers.