File photo: African News Agency (ANA)

JOHANNESBURG- Trade union Solidarity has blamed the strike by Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) for the possible loss of more than 6,000 jobs at Sibanye-Stillwater's gold operations in South Africa.

This as Sibanye said on Thursday that it would begin consultations with relevant stakeholders in terms of Section 189A of the Labour Relations Act regarding the possible restructuring of its gold operations which might affect more than 6,670 workers.

The diversified miner said the restructuring process was as a result of ongoing financial losses experienced at Beatrix 1 shaft in the Free State and Driefontein 2,6,7,8 shafts in Gauteng during the 2018 financial year. 

At least 15,000 workers, affiliated with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), have been on strike at Beatrix and Driefontein mines since November 2018 demanding higher wages and rejecting all Sibanye offers. 

Gideon du Plessis, general secretary of Solidarity, said the section 189 notice issued by Sibanye did not come as a surprise as the miner had already indicated at the start of the salary negotiations in June 2018 that an unsatisfactory wage settlement could lead to thousands of job losses.

Du Plessis said his union and the National Union of Mineworkers had signed the wage agreement with Sibanye, after three months of negotiations, with the aim of limiting job losses, or to prevent the losses.

"Our appeals were not taken seriously, and the sad irony is that it is now mainly Amcu members who will be hit the hardest by the retrenchments. The result was a destructive strike which has been going on since 21 November 2018," du Plessis said.

Sibanye currently employs over 61,000 people in South Africa, compared with 37,700 employees six years ago, and is one of the largest employers in the South African mining industry.

Sibanye expects to report an attributable loss of R1 billion for the year ended December 31, 2018 when it presents its operational and financial results next week. 

Du Plessis said that it is mainly Amcu members who are working at the shafts operating at a loss and that these members have already lost three months’ salaries because of the strike. 

"If we use the multiplying factor of an average of 10 dependents per mineworker, Amcu has now dumped thousands of people in poverty. Apart from the job losses, a number of people have already been murdered and numerous houses were burnt down, which is directly related to the strike," du Plessis said

"The trade unions in the mining sector will rather have to sit side by side during the retrenchment consultations to find alternatives and solutions to prevent retrenchments, or at least limit them."

Though Amcu was not immediately available to respond, the union has remained resolute in its demands and on Wednesday rejected Sibanye's latest offer to give striking workers loans and consolidate their debts if they call off the strike. 

Meanwhile, mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe urged Sibanye to explore all possible options to ensure that as many jobs as possible are saved during the mining company's restructuring.

- African News Agency (ANA), Editing by Catherine Rice