MINING companies use unsafe working conditions and fatalities as a new "form of retrenchment" and cutting down on the labour force.

These were accusations levelled by National Union of Mineworkers' (NUM) spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka in response to the latest death of a mineworker at Gold Fields' Driefontein mine.

Gold Fields, the world's fourth biggest gold producer, said yesterday one of the two miners who went missing after four earthquakes on Monday, had been found dead.

Seshoka said of the second miner who was still missing: "Our guess is that he has also died because there is no way you can survive underground for over 48 hours with no air, water or food.

"They saw his gumboots when they found the other body but could not go on with the search and rescue efforts because there was a sudden rock fall."

According to NUM, 152 mineworkers have died at the country's mines this year.

Seshoka said it was "stupid" of mine bosses to regard the decline in the number of fatalities this year - from 168 last year - as an improvement.

"We find it silly that mining companies always aim for a zero-fatality rate, but also tend to celebrate a slight decline in fatalities even if more than a hundred workers died."

He said NUM had always argued for the introduction of seismic monitoring systems as most accidents were caused by rock falls.

"Mine managers are more concerned with walking around wearing beautiful suits and with calculators in their pockets to count cash - hence we start viewing these mine deaths as a new retrenchment strategy."

Seshoka also lashed out at the National Prosecuting Authority and the Human Rights Commission for "not taking" the issue of mine deaths more seriously.

"The NPA's attitude is very strange because we don't know why it's taking them so long to prosecute these mine bosses for workers' deaths.

"This shows they spend more time in their offices playing computer games and not thinking about helping the poor mine workers."

Trade union Solidarity spokesman Jaco Kleynhans said the latest fatalities show that "just over three mine workers have died in South African mines each week this year."

Kleynhans also warned that mining safety had to be increased "sharply" over the festive season "because this time of year was notorious for its more slack safety measures, which could lead to an increase in the number of mining accidents."