Sydney-based gold miner, Gold One International, is contemplating the dismissal of more than 500 workers at its Modder East operations in South Africa, following two incidents in the previous year where hundreds of employees staged underground sit-ins that lasted for days.

Ziyaad Hassam, the head of legal at Gold One, revealed on Tuesday that the company plans to dismiss 401 workers at Modder East, while an additional 140 employees have been suspended pending disciplinary hearings, which are likely to take place within the next week.

The issue of underground sit-ins as a form of protest is on the rise in South African mines, with Impala Platinum Holdings and Wesizwe Platinum also reporting similar incidents in December.

The disputes at Modder East, located east of Johannesburg, stem from disagreements over the recognition of labor unions. Workers engaged in underground protests in both October and December of the previous year, with reports from local media, including Rapport newspaper, indicating that some employees were assaulted and held against their will during these incidents.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has announced that it will represent its members at Gold One during the appeal process against their dismissal. The union claims that the workers were coerced into participating in the sit-ins. Livhuwani Mammburu, the national spokesman for NUM, stated that the majority of workers are deeply affected by the dismissals.

In response to the situation, the union will engage in discussions with the mine’s management before deciding on further steps. Mammburu emphasized the importance of addressing the concerns of the workers and finding a resolution that is fair and just.

Gold One International has not released an official statement regarding the potential dismissals and suspensions, but the unfolding situation underscores the challenges faced by mining companies in South Africa in managing labor relations and addressing grievances within the workforce.