NUM preparing to fight as retrenchment toll rises

Johannesburg - The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is gearing up for a fight against both mining companies and the government, amid increasing retrenchments and growing rifts between management and workers at South Africa's mines.

At a press conference on Monday the labour union bemoaned the fact that 80 000 jobs have been shed in the last five years, and said it would oppose all future retrenchments. The union is disappointed that the government has not done more to prevent the bleeding of jobs.

"We will fight tooth and nail with the necessary vigour against these mining companies," said NUM general secretary Kolekile Sipunzi.

Mining sector struggling to stay viable

But the Chamber of Mines hit back, saying that the mining companies are not NUM's enemy. It said it welcomed better cooperation to save jobs, but that the mining sector is becoming increasingly difficult to operate.

Between 2014 and 2016, the industry made an accumulative net loss of around R50bn, the chamber said.

And between 2012 and 2016, the industry lost about 70 000 jobs as it struggled to remain viable.

"Increasing cost pressures such as the steep increase in the price of electricity, increased labour costs and the increased cost of materials have served to undermine the sector."

Under these circumstances, mining companies have been compelled to restructure to ensure their survival, the chamber said.

"It is unfortunate that the industry received little support from other stakeholders and was left to battle the crisis and try to remain viable on its own."

Retrenchments mount

NUM called for a job summit to discuss the increasing job losses on Monday.

The latest round of retrenchments came to light last Monday when the Bokoni platinum mine in Limpopo announced its intention to retrench 2 651 workers in a bid to to regain profitability.

This followed AngloGold Ashanti's announcement that it would retrench 8 500 workers at its two operations in Matlosana and Carletonville. NUM will stage a protest against the retrenchments on Tuesday at the mines.

The Bokoni mine won't be closed, but rather mothballed by restructuring the mine through shaft closures and downsizing.

Bokoni Platinum, a joint venture between Anglo American Platinum and AtlaSA Resources, reported that its operations are running at a loss and that it has a negative cash flow of about R500m for the first six months of 2017. It said it has to restructure operations to keep afloat.

Sipunzi questioned whether the balance sheets are so dire that the mines and jobs can't be saved, pointing to a De Beer's mine that was bleeding money, but ended up in a better financial position with its new owner.

'Troubling' relationship with Zwane

NUM said it is also concerned that many mines are being mothballed, instead of sold to new owners who could save jobs. Mothballing always leads to job losses, the union said, but also admitted that current political instability is not conducive to mines being sold. 

Sipunzi admitted that the rift between the union and mining companies is growing. "Companies regard us as an enemy rather than a stakeholder," he said, adding that mining companies could achieve much if they change their mindset instead of looking for the easy solution of cutting jobs.

The Chamber of Mines said the revised Mining Charter would only make things worse and that it could lead to as many as 100 000 direct and 200 000 indirect job losses.

“Our industry’s future, and its ability to continue to provide employment and benefits to employees, depends on the ability of its stakeholders - government, labour and mining companies - to actively consult each other and work together," said chamber CEO Roger Baxter.

Sipunzi said while the government and the Chamber of Mines do battle in court, it is the workers who will ultimately suffer most.

The union called upon Mining Minister Mosebenzi Zwane to suspend the mine's mining licence to prevent the mothballing of the mine.

Sipunzi confessed that NUM has a troubling or "non existent" relationship with Zwane.

"Zwane is never available. There is no access," he said. "We are about to ask Zuma to remove him."

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