Miners head for extinction

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Job losses in the platinum sector have been rampant and Anglo Platinum has been steadily cutting back its workforce to reduce debt

PHOTO: Elizabeth Sejake
Job losses in the platinum sector have been rampant and Anglo Platinum has been steadily cutting back its workforce to reduce debt PHOTO: Elizabeth Sejake

Job cuts in the mining industry are set to continue after major sectors already shed about 64 000 workers over the past four years.

The “rightsizing” and “repositioning” of Anglo American Platinum is continuing, CEO Chris Griffith said this week. He announced more possible mine closures that would affect several thousand workers.

The company has led the industry in job shedding since 2012.

Official government statistics collected from mines show platinum, gold and coal mines shedding a collective 63 959 jobs since 2012. Many thousands of those were contract positions.

Anglo Platinum this week announced that it sustained a loss of R12.2 billion last year. Most of that related to impairments and the cost of restructuring – including severance packages.

After this exercise, all the company’s mines were now “cash positive”. In other words, they are holding their own.

Anglo Platinum managed to reduce its significant debt burden by almost R2 billion to R12.8 billion by the end of last year.

With 45 520 workers, Anglo Platinum now employs 14 000 less people than it did four years ago. Despite that, it produced the same amount of platinum, Griffith said this week.

Unprofitable mines have been closed and more productive, less labour-intensive ones have been ramped up.

“We don’t come to work seeing how many people we can get rid of. We come to work seeing how much money we can make,” Griffith said.

Anglo Platinum hoped to wrap up the sale of its radically restructured Rustenburg mines to Sibanye Gold this year, shifting over a quarter of its remaining workforce.

Its Union mine, with more than 6 000 employees, is still on the chopping block.

Anglo Platinum wanted to sell it, but if all else failed, it would be put on care and maintenance, said Griffith.

Two new steps were announced this week: the group’s Twickenham mine development is destined for mothballing, affecting more than 1 000 workers, while its 50% of the Kroondal mine in Rustenburg is for sale.

The National Union of Mineworkers, which still holds sway at Twickenham, issued a fiery statement calling Griffith “moneyed, heartless and cruel” for announcing possible new retrenchments through the media.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which claims a majority of workers at Twickenham as members, confirmed that the unions had not been forewarned.

When a company plans a mass retrenchment, it has to issue a so-called section 189 notice and negotiate with unions.

“I think they need to give us a presentation before they issue a 189,” Joseph Mathunjwa, the president of Amcu, told City Press.

“The commodity prices are falling, but where is the cutoff?” he asked.

Griffith repeated an old Anglo Platinum complaint this week – that no one else seems willing to be quite as vicious in cutting out unprofitable production.

If all the other platinum companies did what Anglo Platinum has done, and closed their unprofitable shafts, he believes the platinum price would recover.

Half the industry was operating at a loss, he said.

While the ongoing restructuring has run into strong worker and government opposition since 2012, Griffith said this year was unlikely to see another major strike.

Workers would probably lack the “appetite” for another large stayaway with the events of 2014 still fresh in most of their memories, Griffith said when asked if Anglo Platinum intended to build up stockpiles the way it did before the 2014 strike.

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