Botswana: Batswana Migrants Could Lose Their SA Mine Jobs

The future of Batswana migrant workers in South African mines hangs in the balance as the neighbouring country's mining houses advance retrenchment plans.

South Africa's biggest mine workers' organisation, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) warned yesterday that job losses were imminent at most mines. An estimated 3, 000 Batswana work in South African mines, most of them in the gold sector. The Secretary General of NUM, France Baleni, told Mmegi yesterday that companies such as Gold Fields Limited and Lonmin "have advanced plans for retrenchments". NUM represents 280, 000 of the 400, 000 strong membership of South Africa's mining sector's organised labour. "We have asked the companies why they can't consider alternatives." "Many mines have terminated their sub-contractors' services while others have issued notices to retrench," Baleni said. Gold Fields' corporate affairs manager, Marrit Claassens, was tight-lipped on job slashes at her company. "We are still in discussions and consultations regarding our current business operational status," she said.

Gold Fields employs over 47, 000 workers at its four operations of Kloof, South Deep, Driefontein and Beatrix mines. Approximately 80 percent of the 3 000 Batswana miners in South Africa are employed by Gold Fields. No Motswana works for Lonmin. Anglo Gold Ashanti, another high profile South African mining house, had not responded to our enquiries at the time of going to press. South Africa's Chamber of Mines said the current economic environment was having a different impact on different commodities. But the organisation that represents mining companies would not comment on the feared job cuts. "The current global financial situation has exacerbated (the difficult) conditions which were in place before this financial crisis," said the chamber's spokesman, Jabu Maphalala, responding to Mmegi enquiries, who added that the matter was brought to the attention of the chamber's partners last month.

Maphalala said a task team had been established "to address how best to mitigate the impact of the (negative) economic environment on jobs as well as to find ways of ensuring that the mining industry emerged from the crisis stronger", this should enable the mining sector to take advantage of any future improvement in commodity prices and attract investment into the industry. He said mining companies were addressing the situation differently in accordance with specific issues they faced at their operations and that the extent of further job losses would depend on how the different mining companies were affected by the global financial crisis, commodity prices and input costs. Maphalala explained that different commodities - gold, platinum, steel, coal and diamond - were affected differently by different situations. "Deep level mines in different commodity sectors, for example, have been affected mostly by the reduction in the supply of electricity whilew work stoppages have impacted different companies differently, depending on the causes of such stoppages".

During the past year, production stoppages resulting from different factors had a profound impact on the mining sector and had also contributed to costs of production, Maphalala said. South African mines were hit hard at the beginning of 2008 when the country experienced power shortages as a result of growing demand for power.
The country's power utility, Eskom, which had previously blamed failure to meet demand on insufficient coal, rationed consumption to the mines. Eskom has since secured a loan to the tune of US$ 500 million from the African Development Bank to expand infrastructure. (All Africa)


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