De Beers Operations in supplied

Johannesburg - Leading diamond producer De Beers has moved to allay fears that it plans to retrench 366 workers in its South African mines, saying only 121 positions are at stake.

This as the company aligns its production to meet “softer market demands”, while ensuring it remains sustainable by reducing the “stay in business” and “expansion capital” costs.

Read: De Beers joins retrenchment move

Trade union Solidarity said yesterday that De Beers had embarked on a “large-scale retrenchment process”, warning that the developments would worsen the jobs crisis unravelling in the mining and steel sectors.

However, the company’s senior external communications manager, Tom Tweedy, said De Beers had become smaller during the past two years.

He said as a result, it needed to get rid of some posts.

“De Beers will, therefore, seek to reduce its 2 236 workforce by 189 positions, of which 68 positions may be reduced without retrenchments and by natural attrition from retirements and redeployment of employees. The remaining 121 affected positions will be concentrated at the corporate offices in Kimberley and Johannesburg, at Venetia Mine and in the Venetia Underground Project,” Tweedy said.

He added that De Beers had already begun section 189 procedures to ensure that the process was fair to all the affected workers.

While the figure may not be as high as reported by Solidarity, the retrenchments will still be felt hard in an industry that has slashed thousands of jobs as a result of the meltdown in commodity prices.

The National Union of Mineworkers said while it was unable to immediately confirm details of the job losses, they were concerned about their members who would have to search for new jobs at a time when the economy was creating none.

Solidarity general secretary Gideon du Plessis said the pending retrenchments were announced after the company had said it was going through a difficult financial spell.

“This announcement was made shortly before Anglo American’s briefing session where the company said its financial position had seriously deteriorated in the recent past,” Du Plessis said.

Tweedy said Solidarity had been mistaken when it arrived at the figure.

Du Plessis conceded late yesterday: “They did say to us that’s not the right figure and we said that’s not what the retrenchment consultation letter says, but they have since clarified that.”

He said the company was also aware that the process would be difficult for those affected and had provided counselling services to its staff.

But he argued that the company could not have arrived at a different conclusion.

“De Beers has carefully reviewed the options available and believes that the restructuring proposal will ensure that the business is fit for purpose and better able to operate within this volatile and less predictable economic environment,” Tweedy said.