Thousands of retrenchments could take place in the mining industry in the first quarter of next year. Bheki Sibiya, the chief executive of the Chamber of Mines, told the Cape Town Press Club on Friday that the figure could rise above 10 000.
While the current low levels of profitability were affecting job security, the ongoing talk about nationalisation was having a negative impact on job creation. For this reason, said Sibiya, next month’s ANC conference in Mangaung was very important to the mining sector.
“The conference is going to take a decision about the dreaded ‘N’ word; until we deal with the ‘N’ word, jobs will continue to be lost,” said Sibiya, adding that he believed the ANC would take the right decision. “There isn’t one single example anywhere in the world where mineral nationalisation has worked.”
Sibiya said 59 percent of South Africa’s gold and platinum mines were operating at break-even or at a loss and productivity in the sector was a big challenge for management.
Vusi Mabena, the skills development adviser at the chamber, acknowledged there was a sense of entitlement among workers who felt that, because they had been so badly treated over the years, they were now entitled to get large salary increases. “We need to engage with the unions to address the issue of productivity; when jobs are affected you find that the unions will talk about productivity,” Mabena said.
Sibiya said the two major issues dominating the industry were the Marikana crisis and the ANC’s Mangaung conference. He said there was a sense of “deep shame and embarrassment in the industry” about the events at Marikana. “Never should this sort of tragedy, or the conditions that prevailed, occur again.”
Sibiya said the two important “subtexts” around Marikana were the living-out allowance and the migrant labour system. The companies were reviewing the allowance in conjunction with all the unions. “It may be necessary to build up a stock of houses.”
He described the migrant labour system as “an unfortunate consequence” of the way the industry had developed. “It shouldn’t have developed that way but it did, and now we must deal with it.” He said the use of migrant labour “will diminish significantly” over time.
Sibiya said the status quo regarding labour brokers could not continue. “They need to be regulated but should not be banned.”
A lekgotla held recently to discuss productivity in the sector had identified a number of issues that would have to be addressed if the local industry was to become internationally competitive, Sibiya said. The capacity of the local authorities to deliver would have to be improved; there needed to be a disciplined approach to electricity pricing; regulatory authorities had to be strengthened so that they did what they were supposed to do; and infrastructure had to be developed.
Sibiya said the lack of railway lines in the Northern Cape meant that only a small percentage of the province’s high quality manganese was exported. He said the industry had been told that product had to be exported through Coega at a cost of R1 000 a ton instead of through Saldanha, which would cost R420 a ton.