Barrick laying off 1,500 Pascua-Lama workers in Argentina: government

BUENOS AIRES Sat Dec 14, 2013 9:47am EST

The gold processing plant under construction in Argentina, at Barrick Gold's Pascua-Lama mine site is pictured in this February 2, 2012 handout photo obtained by Reuters July 27, 2012. REUTERS/Barrick/Handout

The gold processing plant under construction in Argentina, at Barrick Gold's Pascua-Lama mine site is pictured in this February 2, 2012 handout photo obtained by Reuters July 27, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Barrick/Handout

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Barrick Gold Corp is laying off roughly 1,500 of its approximately 5,000 workers on the Argentine side of its suspended Pascua-Lama gold mine project, a local government spokesman said on Saturday.

The Toronto-based miner said in October it was moth-balling the huge project, which straddles the border between Argentina and Chile.

However, Barrick (ABX.TO) maintained workers in Argentina's Western San Juan province to perform maintenance tasks and build some infrastructure.

"As of 2014 there will be 3,500 workers," Alejandro Flores, the spokesman for the San Juan Mining Ministry, told Reuters.

"All the works on the Argentine side have been rescheduled as the company is prioritizing works on the Chilean side. Therefore most people working on site won't be necessary for two years," he added.

Chile's environmental regulator suspended the project earlier this year due to "significant" environmental harm, and ordered mitigation measures to avoid water pollution.

Pascua-Lama has also been plagued by cost overruns, what experts have called poor management, and lower bullion prices.

Before the project's suspension, the Toronto-based miner employed roughly 10,000 people on the Argentine side of the complex.

Barrick did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Maximilian Heath; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Vicki Allen)