JOHANNESBURG, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Workers will return to Gold Fields’ sole South African mine on Thursday after a six-week strike was called off by the country’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), with production likely to resume in earnest next year. Workers from the largest union operating at the South Deep mine downed tools in November after the bullion producer announced plans to cut 1,100 jobs at the mine - near a third of its workforce.
A Gold Fields spokesman said on Thursday that while some teams had returned to the mine, production was unlikely to resume in earnest until the second week of January due to training, measures to ensure the mine was safe and a break over the Christmas period.
While the firm planned to ask for volunteers to work over Christmas, any production was likely to be “negligible”, the spokesman said.
The South Deep mine, already a drag on Gold Fields’ performance, has been out of action completely for six weeks.
The site has faced numerous operational obstacles in a tough geological setting 3 km (2 miles) below the surface.
The layoffs and Gold Fields’ response to the strike also drew criticism from South Africa’s mining minister Gwede Mantashe.
The NUM had directed the union’s South Deep branch to call off the strike on Wednesday, but the Gold Fields spokesman said the branch was resisting the decision, prompting security concerns for returning workers.
The safety of employees is a priority, Gold Fields said in a message to staff, adding it had increased security at the site.
Gold Fields’ shares were flat at 0711 GMT, after rising more than 5 percent on Wednesday following the news that the strike had been called off.
Reporting by Emma Rumney; editing by Jason Neely