The South African Federation of Trade Unions condemns the expected announcement from Impala Platinum (Implats) that it may lay off up to 2,500 of its 31,000-strong workforce at its Rustenburg mining operations “to cope with low metal prices and declining production”.
Implats, the world’s second-largest platinum miner, has started a Section 189 process under the Labour Relations Act to restructure their mines, warning that jobs could be lost.
“The financial sustainability of Impala has deteriorated significantly over recent years,” says CEO Nico Muller. “We have implemented ongoing cost saving and optimisation initiatives in an attempt to restore profitability and secure continued employment as far as possible”, but that “unfortunately, we are now left with no further option in the prevailing operating environment, but to consider further restructuring processes that may lead to a reduction in the number of employees.”
This statement reflects in microcosm the crisis facing the mining industry. After decades of ruthlessly exploiting workers and despoiling local communities in the chase for profits, the private mining companies are preparing to throw workers on the scrapheap, abandoning nearby communities and worsening the country’s already catastrophic crisis of unemployment and poverty.
And it could get even worse. In addition to the 2,500 people who could be affected soon, the CEO warns that “this does not preclude further optimisation processes that may be required in future to ensure the continued sustainability of the operation,” but that “no final decision has been taken as regards the proposed restructuring, and no final decision will be taken prior to full and proper consultation with affected employees, and their representatives, in compliance with the Labour Relations Act”.
The industry on which South Africa’s economy has been built – at the cost of hundreds of workers’ lives and thousands who have been infected with fatal illnesses – is in terminal crisis. StatisticsSA’s Mining Industry 2015 report calculated that the mining industry shed almost 50,000 jobs from 2012 to 2015, mostly in the gold and platinum sectors.
Sibanye Gold has already dismissed over 1,500 miners at its Cooke operations for participating in an unprotected strike. Many more jobs are likely to go as the worldwide slump in demand for minerals and the shift away from carbon-based fuel continues.
We are paying a heavy price for years of wasting these valuable resources under the ground by exporting them to be processed in other parts of the world, rather than used as the basis for a vibrant metal manufacturing industry in South Africa.
Meanwhile the ANC government has failed totally to implement its own Conference policies to transform the industry, beneficial the minerals, build downstream manufacturing industry and created a state-owned mining company. These are the only way in the short term to stem the hemorrhaging of jobs, but the government is now so paralysed by factional battles and corruption that it is incapable of taking any measures to save the industry.
In the longer term it is vital to revive the demand, inspired by the Freedom Charter’s call for “The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry to be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole”, for the nationalisation of the mines.
The Chamber of Mines and others will try to claim that nationalisation is only being advocated by those who want to create new areas for looting, as in other state-owned enterprises, and thus try to discredit SAFTU’s legitimate case for nationalisation.
That is why it is essential to popularize, and mobilize for, nationalisation under democratic workers’ control, with an elected board of directors, which will be accountable to the workers, communities and the government.
Economic power must be brought into the hands of the people and not multinational monopoly companies which only exist to maximize profits. The mines must be run as part of a democratically planned socialist economy which beneficiates rather than exports our mineral wealth so that it can be used in the interests of all South Africans.