The South African Federation of Trade Unions is incensed at today’s revelation by
Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant that mining companies are not making use of the government’s training layoff scheme, which has a fund of more than R2bn to up-skill retrenched workers.
The scheme was set up shortly after the 2008 global recession as companies shut down due to economic pressure. A declaration that was agreed to by all stakeholders in 2015 included a commitment by the mining industry to organize the training of retrenched mineworkers as part of a scheme to save jobs and ameliorate the effect of job losses.
However the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration says that mining companies have submitted just a pathetic figure of 36 retrenchment referrals since the beginning of 2017, despite the fact that the Chamber of Mines itself estimates overall job losses in the industry since 2012 at 70,000.
So the scheme has been an abysmal failure The minister blames this on the intransigent attitude of business and alleges that mining companies are avoiding having to declare their finances to the Labour Department and disclose the real reasons behind retrenchments. She added that even the services provided by Productivity SA to struggling companies were not being taken up.
“When we look at the mining sector, they do not even say they are in distress; they just retrench. In most cases, however, when there is an increase in the wages, they will come and say ‘we are retrenching because we cannot afford it’,” she says.
She warned that the fund would be reviewed if it remained underused.
Mining companies cannot plead poverty. As SAFTU’s affiliate NUMSA has said in respect of the coal mining industry: “Mining houses in South Africa have made obscene profits in the last 23 years and they continue to do so, whilst the working and living conditions of workers have not improved at all to the same degree.
“For example, last year Glencore made a profit of $10.3billion and increased profits by 18%. The CEO of Glencore Ivan Glasenberg made $1.5million in 2015, and yet, shamefully the lowest paid worker at the mine earns a pathetic R6800 or $513 per month! This is truly disgraceful. The mining house could never have achieved success without the sweat and toil of our members, and yet, they have the nerve to continue to pay them slave wages.”
NUMSA adds: “The CEOs and shareholders continue to earn millions per annum; they drive fancy cars and live in mansions. Glasenberg is one of the richest men in South Africa. But his employees are forced to live in squalor with the indignity of shacks which have no running water or electricity. Our members can barely afford cars and must depend on the unreliable public transportation system, and yet, were it not for our members, Glasenberg and other executives at Glencore would not be able to enjoy their luxurious life styles. Our members are responsible for creating the wealth in the industry but they are treated like animals.”
Now the minister has revealed that these mega-rich mining millionaires are refusing to implement even this modest training scheme which could provide some small relief to workers and their families facing destitution.
How much less can they be expected to fund all the other measures needed to rebuild the industry, save jobs, pay living wages, improve the living conditions in mining communities and rescue the environment which has been ravaged by their irresponsible despoliation of the land?
Their reluctance to even try to retrain workers they have exploited for years and then thrown on the scrap heap strengthens SAFTU’s call for the nationalisation of the industry in the spirit of the Freedom Charter.
The mines are a national asset which must be used for the benefit of the people – the workers, the local communities and the national economy – not as a way to make quick profits for wealthy investors. The minerals must be used to created downstream manufacturing industries and not to be exported as raw materials and then reimported as manufactured goods from other countries.
SAFTU demands the nationalisation of the mines, heavy chemicals and the banks.
In order however to ensure that these newly nationalized industries do not suffer the same fate as many existing state-owned enterprises (SOEs) like Eskom, SAA, Prasa and others, which are being bankrupted through corruption and mismanagement, the nationalized mines, the other key industries and the existing SOEs, must be democratically controlled from the bottom-up by representatives of workers and communities, to whom top officials are fully accountable for implementing mandates.
They must then be developed as part of a democratically planned economy which beneficiates rather than exports our country’s resources so that they can be used in the interests of all South Africans.