Downsizing comes amid rising strikes by workers
South African workers are continuing their struggle against the bosses with strike actions spreading from the mines, automobile plants, air transport technology stations to construction sites. On September 3, thousands of members of the National Union of Metalworkers Union (NUMSA) were scheduled to march through Pretoria to the headquarters of the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa to deliver a memorandum demanding that the trade group pressure car production firms to settle a strike that was in its third week.
In the most significant industry, platinum mining, the largest owner Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), has announced that up to 7,000 jobs could be eliminated in a restructuring program. The company had earlier threatened to fire twice as many workers but revised its plan to wipe out only 50 percent in the initial proposal.
These developments are taking place throughout the mining industry inside the country. Anglo American, which is also involved in other extractive markets such as gold, has reported a 10 percent decline in value since the beginning of 2013. Amplats produces 40 percent of the platinum sales internationally. The most profitable region for the firm is located in Rustenberg where during 2012 police shot dead 34 miners at the Lonmin corporation facility at Marikana on August 16.
Several leading firms in mining have faced mounting difficulties since the beginning of the year. According to Business Tech in South Africa, “Other mining companies saw even bigger declines: Kumba Iron Ore shrank 17.4% to R148.5 billion (2012: R179.7 billion); Impala Platinum cut off 24.6% to R74.8 billion (2012: R99.1 billion); and Goldfields dropped off the top 25 entirely, having nearly halved its market cap, dropping 45.6% to R42.8 billion (2012: R78.6 billion). “ (August 28)
Corporate media reports have indicated that the widespread wild cat and protected strikes are at the root of the job elimination. Workers in the mines are represented by two rival unions the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the newer Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).
NUM representatives claim that negotiations between the union and Amplats owners resulted in a compromise of 3,000 job losses and not the 6,900 officially announced by company executives. NUM has threatened to strike in response to the layoffs but AMCU has said it will not support a strike until the job cuts are final.
A spokesman for Amplats noted “A month’s notice period for affected employees will commence on 1 September,” said Amplats CEO Chris Griffith, concluding plans to trim 6,000 mining and 900 white-collar jobs to supposedly save approximately $400 million a year.
Griffith went on to point out that other saving would come from “voluntary severance packages, early retirement, redeployments and the filling of internal vacancies.” (AFP)
Meanwhile, in the gold sector, a war of words took place between unions and bosses on September 2 when workers threatened to strike the following day demanding between 60 to 150 percent wage increases and better conditions of employment. The firms where workers were prepared to walk off the job are AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony Gold and Sibanye Gold.
The mining executives are responding to the labor unrest by blaming the workers for the crisis. Mark Cutifani, the CEO for the Anglo American said, “Promoting expectations above the capacity of the industry to pay is a dangerous road that may have tragic consequences for employees who do not understand how close we are to economic devastation in certain sectors.”
“If we lose each other in the present discussions, we will count the costs in mines closed and tens of thousands of jobs lost,” Cutifani was quoted as saying in a commentary in the Business Day newspaper.
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