Optimum Coal closure: a worker’s story

06.05.2015

Bridget Mahlangu joined Glencore Optimum Coal as a learner plant operator ten years ago. She was fresh from high school, with no experience in mining but only a matric certificate. She was trained as plant operator, responsible for processing and washing coal.

She also had dreams of becoming a team leader one day. But her rosy dreams were thwarted in Janaury 2015 when the company announced its intentions to retrench.

Mahlangu said she was stunned when she heard of Optimum Coal’s intention to retrench over 1,067 permanent workers and 500 contractors.

 I have never worked anywhere else, my entire working life I have spent it at this company. I still hoped they would train me further,

said the single mother of three children.

My biggest worry now is that I don’t know where my children will get their next meal. I don’t know if I should take them out of school because as a single parent I won’t be able to pay for their school fees,

said Mahlangu.

Mahlanhu also said that after her father passed away last year, she has taken the role of bread winner for her family and extended family members.

I have seven extended family members that I must provide for –if the retrenchment goes through those people who look to me for financial support will also be affected,

she said.

According to Mahlangu the planned retrenchment will affect the entire community near the mine and will increase the rate of unemployment and poverty.

We need to find a solution that is suitable to all parties to ensure that jobs are not lost. The government should also intervene to ensure that our jobs are saved,

said Mahlangu.

Mahlangu said since the company announced its intentions to retrench morale among workers is very low. There have been many incidents that can compromise the health and safety of workers.

We have until the end of April 2015 and after that we don’t know what will happen. People are not concentrating; they are stressed about the impending retrenchments – there are a lot of accidents at the plant now,

said Mahlangu.