Business Maverick


5,270 jobs on chopping block as Sibanye restructures Marikana

Miners commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Marikana mass shooting in 2017. Sibanye-Stillwater has told unions of its intention to cut up to 5,270 jobs at the Marikana unit. (Photo: EPA / Kim Ludbrook)

Sibanye-Stillwater has informed trade unions it aims to cut up to 5,270 jobs at its Marikana operations, which were once part of Lonmin. If Sibanye had not acquired Lonmin, more than 20,000 jobs would have been at risk.

Back in December 2017, when diversified precious metals producer Sibanye-Stillwater announced its intention to acquire Lonmin, about 12,600 jobs looked likely to be shed at the troubled platinum producer. A further 900 jobs would probably go because of duplications arising from the merger. On 10 June 2019, the merger was concluded, with conditions that included no forced retrenchments for at least six months.

That deadline expires in December and Sibanye on Wednesday 25 September informed unions of its intention to cut up to 5,270 jobs at the Marikana unit.

There will be a mandatory 60 days of consultations, which can be extended for a month, then the restructuring can go ahead. Nothing is set in stone and some of the jobs could be saved – with workers transferred to other units, for example – but shafts will close at Marikana as they have reached the end of their reserves.

It’s possible that there will be fewer job losses. We will see how the consultations process goes,” Sibanye spokesman James Wellsted told Business Maverick. The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), the main union at Lonmin’s former operations, did not respond to requests for comment. The Solidarity union, in a statement, blamed job losses on Amcu’s five-month 2014 strike in the platinum sector, an industrial action that brought Lonmin to its knees. It also blamed former CEO Ben Magara.

Magara was more focused on keeping Amcu happy than focusing on the mines’ sustainability and effective management. As a result, Sibanye-Stillwater now has to deal with Magara’s mess, and innocent employees have to pay the price,” Solidarity general secretary Gideon du Plessis said. In fairness, Magara was caught between a rock and a hard place at Lonmin as he tried to navigate relations with the volatile Amcu at a company that was losing money hand over fist as the platinum price dropped.

The move is sure to stir emotions, especially given the violent 2012 wildcat strike and police massacre that bears the name Marikana. Job cuts are a politically thorny issue in South Africa, so a government response is likely. Meanwhile, platinum wage talks are also underway and Amcu may well cry foul over what it will no doubt perceive to be another assault on the African working class by the forces of capital.

One thing is clear: Lonmin, even two years ago, was no longer a going concern, which is why it became a cheap takeover target in an all-share deal.

Without Sibanye or another significant investor, the company would almost certainly have been run into the ground, with well over 20,000 jobs lost.

The current scenario is probably the best that can be hoped for under trying circumstances. BM


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