Unions at a loss as mining task team fails to deliver
While 32 000 mine workers’ jobs are in jeopardy, mining unions are at their wits’ end because a task team that is meant to stop retrenchments in the industry has not met once since it was appointed in August.
The task team was the initiative of former mineral resources minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi.
The jobs massacre is now looming mainly in the so-called steel-feed metals sector: iron ore, chromium and manganese mines.
Of the 11 300 workers in iron ore mines, about 3 600 will lose their jobs in the next two months. In Mpumalanga, the owners of Dilokong chromium mine, near Burgersfort, which employs about 2 000 workers, are planning to close the mine.
Dilokong has been struggling since October last year, and was hit by a strike by about 254 underground workers, who were dismissed in December. The entire workforce was locked out by management, but when they returned in the first week of January, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was informed that the mine was being closed down.
“We think the mine is being closed to get the union out of the workplace,” said Philip Vilakazi, provincial chairperson of the NUM in Limpopo.
It’s also clear that Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane will put pressure on the owners of the mine, ASA Metals, to change their plans.
“We are in contact with them, but we think it’s unnecessary to close the mine,” Zwane told City Press stablemate Rapport on Thursday.
Zwane said that, in the coming weeks, “we will be struggling with the number of mining companies approaching us because of the resources crisis”.
Zwane is meeting with representatives of the NUM and the management of Dilokong on Tuesday to discuss the mine’s future. He is empowered to grant the mining licence to another company if he feels that ASA Metals is not complying with its conditions set out in the licence.
Ironically, the government owns 40% of the mine. The only other partner in ASA Metals is Sinosteel, a Chinese steel producer.
However, Zwane’s motives are also under suspicion.
It was revealed this week that he was present when a negotiating team from a Gupta family controlled company, Tegeta, met with Glencore in Baar, Switzerland, to negotiate the sale of Optimum Coal Mine to Tegeta.
Glencore was bullied by Eskom to sell Optimum because of a fine of R2 billion imposed on Optimum. This resulted in Optimum being placed under business rescue.
Zwane said a subcommittee of the working group that was established last year was looking at plans to prevent job cuts, such as the relocation of excess mine workers and the retraining of other workers.
But unions say the task team that must carry out these plans has not met at all since it was appointed by Zwane’s predecessor last year.
But even if the task team had been up and running, very little can be done to prevent Kumba’s Sishen mine’s workforce being cut by almost half by terminating the services of 2 633 permanent workers and 1 300 contract workers because of the predictions by the World Bank and others that it would take years before the price of iron ore recovered.
The three largest producers are in fact continuing to increase production in Western Australia and Brazil, and it was not out of the question that the price would fall more before it stabilised.
The bank expected the average price this year to be about $42 (R670) a ton, compared with $55.80 last year.
The irony is that Sishen’s staff members each received a bonus of R576 045 four years ago related to the company’s BEE plan. At the time, it was the country’s richest mine, and allowed Kumba to distribute R14.5 billion in dividends that year.
This brought unprecedented prosperity to Kathu, the mining town in the Northern Cape, where workers at Sishen and other iron ore mines in the region live, but this week there was a feeling of gloom hanging over the town.
“There has been talk of Sishen being completely closed and that Kumba will only keep Kolomela, the group’s new iron ore mine near Prieska, in operation,” a resident of the town told Rapport.
Meanwhile, Khumani mine – which belongs to Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Minerals – is retrenching 250 workers. The mine lies southeast of Sishen.
Aveng Moolmans, a mining contractor who does work for Sishen, is going to dismiss 600 people, and Tau Mining, also a mining contractor, will reduce its workforce by 175 people.