JOHANNESBURG – The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said Sibanye-Stillwater’s decision to lay off 3,450 workers was another example of mines prioritizing profits over jobs.
NUM was reacting to the company’s announcement on Wednesday that at the conclusion of its restructuring consultation processes, it had decided to close about four shafts.
The union said a failure by mining companies to “think outside the box” has led to the jobs bloodbath at Sibanye-Stillwater.
The mining giant has announced that it will be cutting 3,450 jobs as it concluded restructuring processes in accordance with Section 189 of the Labour Relations Act.
Although that was far less than the 6,670 job losses the company anticipated when it first issued a restructuring notice, NUM spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu said that was of little consolation.
“Every time when these mining companies face operational challenges and problems, the only strategy that they think about is to retrench ordinary mineworkers for their own operational failures. So, this shows that they can’t come up with other measures rather than resorting to retrenching workers.”
While the bulk of the affected workers would receive voluntary severance and early retirement packages, the company said forced retrenchments accounted for 800 employees and 550 contract workers.
SOME JOBS SAVED
The number of job losses was lower than a February forecast that put layoffs at about 5,870 employees and 800 contractors.
The precious metal miner said it had concluded talks with stakeholders on restructuring its gold operations following financial losses at the Beatrix 1 and Driefontein 2,6,7,8 shafts since 2017, with only 3,450 jobs now affected.
Gold producers in South Africa have had profits squeezed by rising costs, labour unrest and declining grades. But job cuts were politically sensitive in South Africa, where the unemployment rate was more than 27%.
“Although restructuring is a difficult and emotive process, the sustainability of our remaining operations is our primary focus,” chief executive officer Neal Froneman said.
“To ensure further sustainability of the West Rand gold mines, avoiding premature mine closure will require an ongoing regional approach to reduce costs through the rationalization of infrastructure and services, including a regional mine water management solution.”
As part of the agreements, Driefontein 8 shaft would remain in operation as long as it made a profit, on average, over any continuous period of three months, after accounting for all-in sustaining costs, the mine said.
That shaft would provide extended employment for about 970 employees and 55 contractors, but in the event that the operation became loss-making again, it would be placed on care and maintenance with immediate effect, Sibanye-Stillwater said.
Beatrix 1 and Driefontein 2 shafts would be placed on care and maintenance, while Driefontein 6 and 7 shafts and Beatrix 2 plant would be closed, the company said.