Urgent meeting planned to curb Amplats crisis

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By Karima Brown.

A desperate scramble is under way to put a lid on the damaging economic and political fallout from Anglo American Platinum’s proposed restructuring plan, which will lead to the loss of 14 000 jobs.

The Sunday Independent understands an urgent meeting is due to take place on Wednesday or Thursday, convened by the Department of Mineral Resources and bringing together unions and all platinum producers to respond to the developing crisis, which is threatening to envelop the entire platinum sector and could lead to an even greater jobs bloodbath.

While the department refused to comment on the upcoming meeting, it comes off the back of a series of high-level bilateral engagements between the government, the ruling party, labour and the mining sector.

The ANC also weighed in this week, and met newly appointed Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani last Wednesday. The ANC delegation was led by party secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, his deputy, Jessie Duarte, and head of economic transformation Enoch Godongwana. Cutifani, the president of the Chamber of Mines, was accompanied by vice-president of the chamber Mike Teke and Anglo executive Khanyisile Kweyama.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) met Amplats executives last Thursday, the same day that Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu met Amplats CEO Chris Griffiths, following a week of escalating public spats during which Shabangu accused Amplats and Griffiths in particular of arrogance.

On Friday NUM sought a postponement of the meeting with the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration set up for talks on the proposed job cuts at Amplats, to give this week’s intervention a chance.

While NUM has been weakened in the platinum sector, shedding members to the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, it remains a key player in the industry and commands huge influence in the ANC and government.

NUM general secretary Frans Baleni backed the call made by Mantashe this week that government rescind the licences of the shafts Amplats wants to mothball and auction them off to other players in the mining industry. “Any option, including auctioning off shafts, that is aimed at retaining jobs will have our support,” Baleni said.

The ANC is keen to open up the industry to miners from within the Brics countries, which Baleni has also endorsed. But any efforts to recalibrate the licensing regime would have to be done within the law, and Baleni also warned against allowing unscrupulous operators from China, in particular, to repeat the notorious Aurora experience.

The Aurora mine made headlines when the company ill-treated workers, many of whom went without wages for months, following mismanagement of the company’s finances.

Cutifani warned against threats to revoke licences to mining companies on the part of the government and the ANC.

Cutifani told The Sunday Independent that punitive action would have a negative impact on investor sentiment.

“There are a set of legal processes we expect all the parties to follow. That’s our position.” He said the government needed to be “careful not to make threats” to companies who needed to operate profitably in a tough global conditions.

Cutifani described last Wednesday’s meeting between the Chamber of Mines and the ANC as “a tough exchange, but very fair and constructive”.

Amplats, the world’s biggest producer of platinum, announced its plans to close shafts and cut jobs last Tuesday resulting in a bitter backlash from the government and the ANC, both of which responded by accusing the company of betraying the government’s trust. - The Sunday Independent

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