Sibanye’s proposed downsizing toughens unions’ stance ahead of wage talks

Sibanye-Stillwater's employees confront an uncertain future amid looming job cuts. Picture: Itumeleng English/ Independent Newspapers

Sibanye-Stillwater's employees confront an uncertain future amid looming job cuts. Picture: Itumeleng English/ Independent Newspapers

Published Apr 15, 2024


SIBANYE-STILLWATER’S recent announcement of drastic restructuring that will result in a jobs bloodbath looks set to toughen the stance of mineworkers’ representatives, though there has been no talk of industrial action as yet ahead of crucial wage negotiations.

Labour unions have accused Sibanye of using its recently announced plans to retrench as many as 4 000 employees at its South African gold mining operations as a way to exert pressure on workers’ unions.

Sibanye-Stillwater last week announced that that it would enter into consultations in terms of Section 189A of the Labour Relations Act regarding proposed restructuring that could potentially affect 3 107 employees and 915 contractors at its South African gold operations and its Southern Africa region services functions.

The multinational mining and metals processing group said some shafts had been loss-making while closure of others in the past few months had necessitated a reduction in services for its Southern Africa region.

Labour unions have now come out guns blazing against Sibanye CEO Neal Froneman, accusing him and his management of being heartless in the way the company had gone about retrenching workers.

In an interview with Business Report on Friday, Solidarity’s general secretary, Gideon du Plessis, said Froneman was protecting Sibanye’s profitability through the retrenchments and was also using it as a bargaining chip ahead of wage negotiations.

“This (retrenchment) is a strategic move on their side to transfer the pressure to trade unions in the build-up to the wage negotiations,” he said.

Du Plessis said that as a union, Solidarity “will ask for retrenchments to be put on hold until we conclude wage negotiations” with Sibanye.

He said Sibanye’s announcement sharply contrasted to the fortunes of Harmony Gold, which concluded a landmark five-year wage agreement of inflation-linked 6% hikes a year with five unions earlier this month.

Du Plessis said Harmony was in the same environment as Sibanye, but had managed to conclude a wage deal under which workers would receive wage increases over the next five years.

“That shows good management from Harmony. The latest announcement by Sibanye is, in any case, the third retrenchment over a 12-month period. It’s appalling, especially when we have favourable pricing of gold,” he said.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said it was shocked by the timing of the announcement of the planned retrenchments by Sibanye, coming when the gold price was at record highs.

The union also questioning the timing of the announcement, especially as labour was about to enter into wage negotiations with the company.

NUM spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu told Business Report that Sibanye’s CEO was geared to maximise profits by cutting costs through retrenchment of employees at its mines.

“They have been retrenching thousands of workers with the objective of making profits and paying a ridiculous salary for their CEO,” Mammburu said.

in the 2022 financial year, Froneman received a total pay package of R189 million, down by R111m from R300m the year before as the world’s largest producer of platinum group metals (PGMs) profit fell to R19bn from R33.8bn for the year on lower commodity prices.

“The decision by Sibanye to retrench in the gold industry is unacceptable and capitalist barbarism,” Mammburu said, adding that the union, however, was not surprised by the move given the attitude of the company to protecting margins.

Last week, Froneman said the JSE-listed gold and PGMs producer was acting to protect its balance sheet.

In 2023, Sibanye-Stillwater sank to a loss of $2bn (R38bn).

“We continue to act prudently to protect the balance sheet and ensure the sustainability of the Group,” Froneman said.

“We are committed to constructively engaging with affected employees and through their representatives to minimise job losses.”