Pan African Resources’ Evander gold mine in Barberton, Mpumalanga Province, has given notice to retrench 95 per cent of its workers – 1722 workers out of 1812 – by the end of May. IndustriALL affiliate the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is asking that the Department of Mineral Resources intervene to save the jobs, even if it means that the government revokes the mining licence.
The company, which went through the retrenchment processes according to the Labour Relations Act, says the Evander 8 mine shaft will be closed to reduce further losses caused by weak gold prices and a strong currency – after the South African Rand’s recent gains in value.
The company mentions that it will prioritize low-cost operations including the Elikhulu Tailings Retreatment Plant in which it is investing 1.74 billion rand (US$139 million) and where 250 jobs will be created. In contrast, Pan African Resources will only pay 160 million rand (US$12.8 million) towards the retrenchments and says some of the retrenched workers will be reskilled for the new operations.
The NUM disputes that the company is making losses, and says that it is instead sacrificing workers for profits as seen in its tailings investments. This money could have been invested in the underground mine facing closure and thus saving jobs. The union points out that the mine is prioritizing surface mining where it employs cheap contract labour rather than underground operations.
Says the NUM:
There is plenty of ore body which can allow the operation to run for the next 40 years. It is therefore irrational for Pan African Resources to close down such an operation where there is an opportunity to create employment.
Workers were given short notice to vacate the houses they are living in, which the company intends to sell. According to the NUM, 80 per cent of the workers are from other parts of South Africa and neighbouring countries, and some have lived in the houses for years and their children go to local schools.
Says Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa:
Instead of retrenching thousands of workers, jobs should be protected. Retrenchments should be used as a last resort to protect the interests of workers and their families.
According to Statistics South Africa, mining is the largest employer in Mpumalanga. Although gold mining is declining, the precious metal’s sales are third in value after coal and platinum group metals.