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CityPress - - Business - XOLANI MBANJWA xolani.mbanjwa@city­press.co.za

outh Africa’s min­ing sec­tor faces a “per­fect storm” that poses a mas­sive chal­lenge to emer­gency talks by trade unions, the depart­ment of min­eral re­sources and the Cham­ber of Mines, ac­cord­ing to the cham­ber’s CEO, Roger Bax­ter.

The dis­cus­sions, aimed at sav­ing most of the 15 000 jobs in the min­ing sec­tor, be­gan this week as gov­ern­ment sus­pended Glen­core Op­ti­mum Coal’s min­ing li­cence for “in­hu­manely” re­trench­ing 630 work­ers, a de­ci­sion the state re­versed on Fri­day.

Min­eral Re­sources Min­is­ter Ngoako Ra­matl­hodi con­vened the meet­ing and es­tab­lished a tech­ni­cal team com­pris­ing his di­rec­tor­gen­eral, Thibedi Ra­mon­tja; Joseph Mathun­jwa from the As­so­ci­a­tion of Minework­ers and Con­struc­tion Union (Amcu); Franz Stehring from the United As­so­ci­a­tion of SA; Sipho Dube from the SA Min­ing De­vel­op­ment As­so­ci­a­tion; Luthando Brukwe from the Na­tional Union of Minework­ers; Gideon du Plessis from Sol­i­dar­ity; and Bax­ter.

All the par­tic­i­pants ex­cept Amcu, which said it did not have con­fi­dence in gov­ern­ment’s in­ter­ven­tion, have wel­comed the ini­tia­tive to save jobs, while some min­ing bosses tore into the state’s reg­u­la­tory un­cer­tain­ties.

These in­cluded com­ments by Sibanye Gold CEO Neal Frone­man at his com­pany’s in­terim re­sults pre­sen­ta­tion this week, where he said min­ing bosses were un­cer­tain about gov­ern­ment’s reg­u­la­tory poli­cies and con­tin­ued to dis­agree with the state about the own­er­ship clause in the Min­ing Char­ter.

Ra­matl­hodi’s spe­cial ad­viser, Ad­vo­cate Mahlodi Muofhe, said the team would work on pos­si­ble so­lu­tions that would be pre­sented to all stake­hold­ers to curb job cuts by the end of the week.

Muofhe said that one of the in­ter­ven­tions be­ing con­sid­ered was the in­tro­duc­tion of a jobs fund to reskill mine work­ers or use the Min­ing Qual­i­fi­ca­tions Au­thor­ity, a state en­tity, to train work­ers to find other jobs once they had been re­trenched.

“The mere fact that the min­is­ter con­vened the meet­ing em­pha­sises how dev­as­tat­ing it is to think of the pos­si­bil­ity of los­ing al­most 15 000 jobs – the ma­jor­ity of those peo­ple sup­port up to 10 peo­ple each,” said Muofhe.

The met­als sec­tor is also fac­ing a con­tin­u­ing jobs blood bath, with Scaw Met­als Group an­nounc­ing its in­ten­tion this week to cut as many as 1 000 jobs.

Eskom’s ir­reg­u­lar power sup­ply to min­ing com­pa­nies was a cru­cial is­sue raised at the meet­ing, with stake­hold­ers re­solv­ing to en­gage with the power util­ity about so­lu­tions to sus­tain sup­ply as min­ing com­pa­nies, such as Kuyasa Min­ing, plan to in­vest bil­lions of rands to build their own power plants.

Speak­ing on the side­lines of the talks, Bax­ter pointed to weak com­mod­ity prices across the globe, spi­ralling wage costs and pro­duc­tion declines in the gold sec­tor, and a 33% de­crease in em­ploy­ment in the gold sec­tor alone.

“The min­ing in­dus­try is sup­port­ive of col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween all stake­hold­ers, en­sur­ing that the min­ing in­dus­try con­tin­ues to play a fun­da­men­tal wealth-cre­ation role in South Africa.

“Gov­ern­ment is a key stake­holder and has a role to play in main­tain­ing the health of the in­dus­try. It is gov­ern­ment’s role to en­sure that com­pa­nies ad­here to the law. But it is equally im­por­tant that gov­ern­ment cre­ates an en­vi­ron­ment that is con­ducive to suc­cess­ful min­ing oper­a­tions,” said Bax­ter, echo­ing Frone­man’s take on un­cer­tain­ties re­gard­ing reg­u­la­tory frame­work.

De­ci­sions by min­ing com­pa­nies to cut jobs were never easy, said Bax­ter.

“Any de­ci­sion to re­duce jobs is not taken lightly. Be­fore com­pa­nies do so, they re­duce num­bers through nat­u­ral at­tri­tion, early re­tire­ments and vol­un­tary sev­er­ance pack­ages. In­vol­un­tary re­trench­ments are a last re­sort,” he said.

“That said, it should also be recog­nised that mines have fi­nite lives and that, at some stage, all oper­a­tions must close.”

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