With the threat of 13 000 job cuts at Impala Platinum mines, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) is warning of mass action if consultations with management to reverse the pending retrenchments fails.
Amcu is the only union at Implats and has 70% membership in the country’s platinum mining sector.
Last week, Implats announced it intended cutting 13 000 jobs over two years, citing economic viability in the prevailing low platinum price environment.
Yesterday, Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa described this rationale as “a recycled and manufactured theory by capital”.
He said South Africa was “a captive of price-setting by the mining industry”. Platinum was priced and sold as part of the platinum group metals, but that this was not the case with gold, uranium and palladium, he said, implying this was not the only road to follow.
To address the fluctuations in mineral prices, Mathunjwa called for a drastic overhaul of South Africa’s economic policy “to create our own demand and supply; and beneficiation”.
He added: “The focus should be to develop our own industry and protect our economy. This will save and create new jobs.
“We have seen US President Donald Trump’s approach, which has created jobs for the American economy with 140 000 recorded in the last quarter.
“South Africa requires leadership … Let our legacy be that of saving and changing people’s lives.”
Should Implats go ahead with the retrenchments, Mathunjwa was unequivocal about the union’s response: “The gloves will be off. We will hit where it hurts most. Any company that has a relationship with Impala will be affected.”
The number of job losses would have a knock-on effect on families and communities in mining towns.
“Research shows that one salary in the mining sector represents between five and 10 livelihoods – including the spouses and family members dependent on it.
“This could mean up to 130 000 people directly affected and probably millions more affected indirectly.”
There is general consensus in the mining sector that one mining job in South Africa, where raw minerals are extracted, supports three people in Europe where beneficiation takes place, according to Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) president Joseph Mathunjwa.
This, said Mathunjwa, was “as a result of greater innovation and advanced technology in Europe”.
He added: “The skills we develop in our country are limited to extraction activities with no downstream capacity to add value to our own commodities. Structurally, there are also limitations that have sustained the drive towards this calamitous destination.
“The mining industry has been engaged in the optimisation and mechanisation discourse for a while. It’s clear – from more retrenchment efforts – the sector is bent on changing mining systems to enable use of a lean workforce for hyper profits. With continuous improvement in technology, new machines will require skilled workers. The threat of non-labour-intensive work is upon us.”
Amcu proposed an unemployment insurance benefit “to guarantee minimum compensation to all workers who lose their jobs to machines, derived from the profits produced by those machines, as a social protection and security measure”.