Implats is on a collision course with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) over the mine’s decision to phase out five of its 11 operating shafts and lay off 13 000 workers.
At a press conference in Sandton on Tuesday, Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa warned that even one job loss was unacceptable, threatening calamitous strike action that would impact “anyone who does business with Impala”.
Each job lost would impact between five and 10 dependents. “This means 130 000 could be impacted by the retrenchments,” said Mathunjwa. The five shafts that Implats plans to shut down should be nationalised. “All mines should be nationalised to promote sustainable jobs,” he added. “The state should revoke the licences of mines that are under care and maintenance.”
Implats’s announcement has also attracted criticism from mines minister Gwede Mantashe, who called the mine’s actions “reckless”. In 2014, Amcu members staged a five-month strike in the platinum sector for higher wages. The strike negatively impacted platinum prices, as well as the rand, and cost platinum producers R24 billion in lost revenue. Mathunjwa threatened more disruption if consultation talks with government and mine management failed.
Cadiz mining analyst Peter Major says SA has already effectively nationalised its mining sector through the Mining Charter and other regulations which add layers of bureaucracy and costs.
The Implats announcement follows a recent announcement by Sibanye-Stillwater to cut 12 600 jobs over three years as part of its plan to acquire another platinum producer, Lonmin.
Addressing the issue of continued job losses in the mining sector, Mathunjwa said this was self-inflicted and manufactured by government. “One mining job in SA supports three jobs in Europe. The skills in SA are limited to extraction (of minerals), not to beneficiation.” By failing to add value to locally-extracted minerals, SA was effectively exporting jobs which could be beneficiated locally, thereby creating thousands of mining-related jobs in SA.
The latest iteration of the mining charter offers generous benefits for local beneficiation of minerals. Mathunjwa said it was possible that this could result in a thriving local industry, similar to that offered under the department of trade and industry’s Automotive Production and Development Programme (APDP), which allows vehicle manufacturers to offset import tariffs against exports. The programme has attracted billions of rands in investment, creating thousands of jobs and boosting the value of exports – to the benefit of the balance of payments.
Mathunjwa pointed to Highveld Steel, placed in business rescue in 2016, as a prime candidate for nationalisation. After seven successive years of losses, it was forced to close operations and lay off 1 800 workers.
“We should have nationalised Highveld, instead we imported steel from China for Kusile and Medupi power plants.”
One of the complaints from steel manufacturers was that SA was unique in failing to impose import tariffs on cheap steel, most of it coming from China. “China is like a loan shark and you know how they behave – they take your bank card,” said Mathunjwa.