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Union protests massive job loss at gold mines in South Africa

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16 May, 2024On 11 May, hundreds of workers from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) marched and petitioned multinational mining corporation Sibanye Stillwater over the loss of 4,022 jobs at its gold mining operations.

The march took place in Carletonville, Johannesburg, and comes after 3,107 permanent workers were given retrenchment notices, while 915 contract workers will also lose their jobs. The NUM said the job losses will impoverish mineworkers who support up to ten family members.

The union said it is surprised that the retrenchments are taking place when the gold price is high, and while Sibanye Stillwater, listed on the Johannesburg and New York Stock Exchanges, is paying millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses to its CEO, Neal Froneman. For example, Froneman earned R291 million (US$15,8 million) in 2021, R198 million (US$10.8 million in 2022) and R56 million (US$3 million) in 2023. The NUM said these amounts were too high for a company that claims financial difficulties as part of the reasons for the retrenchments.

“Sibanye Stillwater has been retrenching workers yearly to cut costs and make huge profits at the expense of mineworkers. The retrenchments are taking place even though the gold price is high. We are surprised that the retrenchments were announced just before the commencement of the wage negotiations with the company,”

said Mpho Phakedi, NUM acting general secretary.

The NUM, affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union, said over the years Sibanye Stillwater has put some mining shafts under “care and maintenance” as an excuse to retrench workers and the union is calling upon the departments of mineral resources and energy (DMRE) and employment and labour to investigate this practice. The NUM also says the government must enforce the “use it or lose it” principle with regards to the mining licences that the multinational is holding.

The NUM is also concerned because Sibanye Stillwater is amongst the worst mining companies in South Africa when it comes to health and safety as eight workers were killed in mine accidents at its operations in 2023. The union attributes this to non-compliance with the Mine Health and Safety Act, and that this was worsened by ineffective labour inspection by the DMRE which has fewer inspectors than are required for the inspections.

“Sibanye Stillwater must seriously consider workers livelihoods before embarking on mass layoffs. The concerns of workers and communities must be prioritised before closing the mines. Mining multinationals should not only be driven by the profit motive, but by environmental, social, and governance issues,”

said Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL mining director.

In a solidarity letter to the NUM, the United Steel Workers (USW) Local 11-0001, an IndustriALL affiliate in the US, said:

“The treatment of the skilled and dedicated South African workforce by Sibanye Stillwater is deplorable. We would like to convey our concerns as well as our support with the troubling situation that Sibanye has placed them in.”