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Workers shocked by Amplats threat

Jan 16 2013 13:11

Amplats mineworkers at a strike prior to retrenchment threat. Picture: Lucky Nxumalo/City Press

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Johannesburg - Anglo Platinum [JSE:AMS] workers refused to go underground on Wednesday as unions scrambled to their defence after the shock news that up to 14 000 workers could be retrenched.

"The bottom line from us is that we will resist the retrenchment of 14 000 with everything in our power," Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said in an interview on SAfm.

This followed the company's announcement on Tuesday that it would be restructuring to "create a sustainable, competitive and profitable platinum business" and that up to 14 000 people could lose their jobs.

Vavi, whose federation includes the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA, said it was wrong that every time profit margins were threatened, companies turned to retrenchments without looking at other ways out of the situation.

Cosatu understood that the company took losses last year, after a wave of strikes following the shooting at Lonmin Platinum in Rustenburg during a strike.

During that period, 12 000 Amplats workers were fired, and later rehired.

But companies could not have this response after "two to four months" of problems, said Cosatu. "They have to explain to us what has happened to these billions and billions of profits. They have to tell us what the executives are earning..."

"Surely we can't be accepting it as a gospel truth. That every time a small margin in terms of profitability is threatened, the first direction is to look at workers, instead of looking at directors," said Vavi.

He said the company also did not consult with unions, keeping their plans a "secret".

United Association of South Africa (Uasa) spokesperson Franz Stehring said workers and unions were told at the same time, which is not the normal protocol to follow.

After the announcement was made at the shafts at 08:00 on Tuesday, workers had to sign letters that a Section 189 process had started, giving the company 60 days to consult with unions over its plans.

"There was no time to prepare members," said Stehring.

NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said the workers' immediate response was to not go underground on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. 

"We are already arranging meetings in a bid to save these jobs, to get them to reverse (the decision)".

But NUM wanted workers not to be emotional, and not to go on unprotected strikes.

"That will ensure that the employer will easily dismiss them without any retrenchment packages," he said.

Stehring said: "All (Amplats) mines are standing, even those (Amplats) mines that are not affected."

About 5 000 Uasa members would be affected.

Stehring said the first thing it did was to ask the company to retract the S189 notice, which it refused to do.

So Uasa had agreed with the company to apply to the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for facilitation, and the CCMA would appoint a commission to deal with the process.

Questions were emailed to Amplats earlier on Wednesday, and a response is awaited.

Meantime, Uasa has already received a notice from an engineering company which did work for Amplats, stating that because of the Amplats announcement it was putting its workers on short time, as a result of the expected impact on its own business.

Stehring said the biggest problem in this situation was the company's utilities bill and Eskom's high prices.

North West police spokesperson Thulani Ngubane said police had not been called to any incidents that required policing near the mines in Rustenburg on Wednesday morning.

Earlier, Mining Minister Susan Shabangu said Amplats should have had more consultations and was in contravention of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act.

Asked if the company's mining licence was under threat, Shabangu replied: "It's themselves who are putting their licence in jeopardy - not us. Themselves."

Anglo Platinum chief executive Chris Griffiths told SAfm: "I need to go back to the minister, sit down with her and her team and work through what the issues are and see how we can rectify that."

The African Peoples Convention saw the closures as a retaliation for last year's strikes.

"This is an attempt to threaten the working class for standing [up] for their rights," it said in a statement.

The ANC, which did not opt for mine nationalisation as its youth league had hoped at its Mangaung conference last year, regarded the company's plans as "part of a strategy to divest its business from South Africa" and relegate its South African mines to the "dogs".

It wanted to know what happened to the company's 50-year social plan, which it had submitted when it converted its licences from the old to new order.

This convinced the governing party that "a move to have all the mining licences reviewed is not misguided".

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anglo platinum  |  mining  |  retrenchments  |  strikes


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