March 13 (Reuters) - Gabriel Resources Ltd may lay off about 80 percent of the workers at its Romanian subsidiary, or nearly 400 people, unless prospects for its Rosia Montana gold mine improve, the Canadian company said on Thursday.
Gabriel is trying to secure permits for Rosia Montana, which would be Europe’s biggest open-pit gold mine. The company said it had given the workers redundancy notices and might terminate contracts, effective May 1.
“We still remain fully committed to constructing and operating a mine at Rosia Montana, but we need to see a similar commitment from Romania,” Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Henry said in a statement.
Gabriel has been working on Rosia Montana, its only advanced project, for 15 years. While some in Romania support building the mine, many others oppose it on environmental grounds.
When the government backed the project last autumn, years had passed without major protests, but activists mobilized quickly, largely on Facebook, and thousands turned up at protests across the country.
A parliamentary commission rejected a draft bill in November that would have allowed Rosia Montana to proceed. A second attempt to approve the project as part of a new mining law failed in December.
Gabriel said on Thursday it did not know when the government could approve its environmental permits.
Rosia Montana is an old mining district, and an abandoned mine sits in the middle of Gabriel’s site. But the company has proposed something much bigger, with four open pits. Some villagers would need to move, and others already have.
Some Romanians want cyanide, the toxic chemical Gabriel would need to process ore, banned outright. The company has vowed to abide by tough environmental standards and safely store waste that would contain small amounts of cyanide.
Thursday’s news came as Gabriel reported its fourth-quarter financial results. Its cash balance fell to C$42.1 million ($37.82 million) as of Dec. 31 from C$79.0 million a year earlier.
The company’s loss for the quarter narrowed to C$527,000, or nil Canadian cents per share, from C$2.5 million, or 1 Canadian cent a share, a year earlier.
Shares of Gabriel were down 2.5 percent at C$1.16 in early trading in Toronto.