Mining companies besieged by protracted strikes say they have no option but to dismiss workers and cut production to stay afloat as negotiations fail to deliver a compromise.

“The industry is on a knife edge, 50 percent of platinum companies are losing cash as we speak,” Mark Cutifani, the AngloGold Ashanti chief executive, said at a press conference in Johannesburg yesterday.

Cutifani said once operations were closed a company would be unlikely to reopen shafts in the short term due to the high costs associated with restarting them.

“Clearly for South Africa’s gold sector, as for many others, there is a very clear trade-off between investing in the sustainability of our business and not putting employment at risk,” Cutifani said.

“If the current unprotected strikes continue, it compounds the potential likelihood of a premature downsizing of AngloGold’s South African operations… [which] account for 30 percent of AngloGold’s production.”

Anglo American Platinum (Angloplat) said in a statement yesterday that the employee attendance rate at its Rustenburg operations remained below 20 percent, despite the great lengths the company had gone to in encouraging striking employees to come back to work.

It said striking employees had been informed that they had to present themselves at disciplinary hearings, which would start today, to make representations about their failure to report for work, or face dismissal. “The company will also be left with no alternative but to dismiss, in their absence, all employees who do not present themselves,” the company said.

Unprotected strikes in the mining sector have spread to the Samancor Chrome Western Mine near Rustenburg following a sit-in by 400 employees on Friday.

In the transport sector, a settlement was reached in the cash-in-transit sector yesterday.

Cash-in-transit workers had reached a strike-ending agreement outside the bargaining council of the Road Freight Employers’ Association (RFEA), Motor Transport Workers’ Union (MTWU) national negotiator Solomon Mothibedi said.

“The Marikana issue has set a precedent whereby employees negotiate with the company,” he said.

Mothibedi added that the union’s negotiators and the RFEA had nothing to do with the agreement for the 4 870 cash-in-transit workers who were on strike, most of whom belonged to MTWU.

“It was made outside the bargaining forum, directly between companies and shop stewards trusted by their employees,” he said.

Meanwhile, Samancor said production had been affected by its workers’ strike. “The company is engaging with its recognised unions to resolve the situation and to get the employees back to work,” it said.

Workers said they were demanding a monthly salary of R12 500 after deductions, a R1 500 sleep-out allowance and a R1 500 underground allowance.

Samancor said the sit-in had been organised by individuals and not by a union.

The strike at Angloplat started last month over salary demands after spreading from Lonmin where 46 people were killed in violent clashes.

Yesterday the judicial commission of inquiry into the deaths during the strike at Lonmin’s Marikana mine started when investigators visited the site.

About 80 000 miners in several sectors are out on wildcat strikes to seek higher salaries.

Last month Lonmin awarded pay increases of between 11 percent and 22 percent to its employees, which ended a six-week unprotected strike. This will add 14 percent to its wage bill from October 1.

Operations at AngloGold Ashanti have ground to a halt since an unprotected strike started at the firm’s Kopanang mine last month.

And the wildcat strike at Gold Fields’ KDC West mine outside Carletonville spread to its Beatrix mine last week. The company has issued two ultimatums since receiving a court interdict declaring the strike illegal. A third ultimatum has yet to be issued for employees to return to work.

Gold Fields has previously said that dismissal was an option to end the strike.