* Gold reserves fell to unsustainable levels
* Discovery of a large copper deposit
* The company in talks to lay off 300 miners
By Aziz El Yaakoubi
RABAT, May 13 (Reuters) - Morocco’s biggest miner Managem has ended gold extraction in the southern Akka gold mines after reserves fell to non-viable levels, leading to the loss of around 300 jobs from its own staff and contractors, it said on Wednesday.
General manager Ismail Akalay said the company would increasingly focus on copper, following the discovery two years ago of a copper deposit of around 1.15 million tonnes in the same area, increasing total copper reserves to 8 million tonnes.
“In Akka’s gold mines, we have around 800 workers and we have succeeded to transfer 500 to other locations,” Akalay said.
“Now we are in talks with our 100 workers for severance payments, as the deal with the 200 interim contractors has been already signed between their company and unions,” he added.
Abdellah Rahmoune from the CDT trade union said talks were ongoing.
“We are still negotiating. We didn’t give our approval yet as we want to be sure that the workers feel really confident with the deal,” said Rahmoune, who took part in the talks with the company and local authorities.
Managem, which is controlled by the Moroccan royal family’s holding company SNI, produces gold, silver, cobalt and copper in Morocco and Gabon and recently won contracts to explore for gold in two mineral-rich areas of Sudan.
Gold production from Managem’s Akka Gold Mining subsidiary, located 280 kilometers southwest of the southern city of Agadir, fell by 23 percent in 2012 to 532 kilograms from a year earlier, while copper output reached 23,371 tonnes or a 2.5 percent increase in the same period, according to company data.
Managem has faced criticism by villagers from Imider in the Atlas mountains, where another subsidiary Imiter Mettalurgic Co operates, accusing it of depleting water levels, creating pollution and doing too little to improve living conditions in the area.
Managem posted a 49 percent rise in 2013 net profit attributable to shareholders to 405 million dirhams ($50 million).
$1 = 8.1535 Moroccan Dirhams Editing by Mark Potter