While labor unrest in South Africa’s mining sector may be garnering most of the attention in the news, developments across the globe are serving to reduce the amount of gold being mined.
In Kyrgyzstan, protests against the Kumtor gold mine run by Centerra Gold has erupted into violence, with an estimated 2,000 rioters throwing rocks at police, storming the mine offices, blocking roads leading to the mine, and sabotaging the power supply. Other protestors have taken control of the provincial government offices, leading the president to call a state of emergency. At least 50 protestors have been injured and 80 arrested as demands that the government nationalize the mine persist. The government has already demanded and received a 30% stake in the mine.
In Indonesia, the government has ordered Freeport to cease operations at its Grasberg open-pit mine after a second fatal mining accident. The mine is the largest open-pit gold mine in the world, and one of the largest copper mines. The Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources states that the government investigation could take as long as three months, and the workers have already refused to return until safety concerns are met.
In Mexico, Minera Frisco has announced that one of their gold and silver mines has been shut down due to illegal actions by a small group of workers. Two other mines in Mexico owned by the company are shut down due to strikes.
And of course, violence in South Africa continues to threaten the world’s platinum supply, as labor unions leaders walk out of negotiations with the government, and President Zuma considers sending “peacekeeping forces” to his own nation’s mines amid bloody clashes between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Unions (Amcu).
The two unions are in a literal war, in a power struggle to control South Africa’s mining sector. Two NUM shop stewards were shot today, one fatally, near the Lonmin mine where 34 workers were killed in violence last year. Today’s murder is in apparent retaliation for an Amcu shop steward being killed in a nearby bar last month. Workers at the mine, where Amcu has recently supplanted NUM as the majority union, have refused to go to work.
Also in South Africa, Glencore has announced the termination of 1,000 workers at three chrome mines over wildcat strikes. The unions are demanding pay raises of up to 60%, while at the same time, mining companies are trying to win government approval of laying off workers at unprofitable mines.