Unions at a loss as min­ing task team fails to de­liver

CityPress - - Business - JAN DE LANGE busi­ness@city­press.co.za

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.

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