Trade union Solidarity said on Thursday that Vantage Goldfields had announced its application for business rescue at its Lily mine, near Barberton.

Solidarity general secretary Gideon du Plessis says given the fact that production has been suspended since the collapse at the mine on 4 February 2016, and that the mine probably would not be operational again in the near future, business rescue now seems to be the only option left for the mine and its employees.

Du Plessis nonetheless criticised the mine’s management because the trade union was not informed of the business rescue application beforehand.

“Management previously undertook not to initiate any process that would affect workers’ job security before informing Solidarity. Management already applied for business rescue on 4 April without informing Solidarity,” Du Plessis says.

He went on to say that although an application for business rescue is often merely a forerunner of a liquidation process, it still holds several benefits for the company and its employees.

In addition, business rescue protects the company from creditors and it may help to ensure that the employees’ conditions of employment remain unchanged unless it is renegotiated with the unions involved,” Du Plessis says.

He says a further advantage of the business rescue application was that all trade unions would immediately be considered to be interested parties in the process. “Therefore it now also gives Solidarity direct access to our members – a right which the company has denied our members to date,” Du Plessis says.

Job protection imperative

Solidarity’s main priority now is to protect its members’ jobs. The trade union says it plans also to present the principles of the Department of Labour’s retrenchment-training-scheme as a possibility to the business practitioner in order to protect jobs.

“In terms of that, employees with transferable skills will also be empowered until the mine hopefully can resume full production again,” Du Plessis explains.

As part of the business rescue process, the powers of the directors and management are restricted and, for the time being, the business rescue practitioner will take responsibility for the management of the company.

“Once the business rescue practitioner has been appointed, Solidarity will seek to establish a constructive relationship with the practitioner in order to initiate a joint attempt to make the mine sustainable again and to protect jobs,” Du Plessis said.

Uncovering the truth

Meanwhile, Solidarity announced late last month that it knew the “real” cause of the mine disaster but announced that it would only be releasing the confidential information to the DMR and mine management, in the best interest of the investigation.

Solidarity said it will liaise with the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) to advance the hearing investigation into the reason for the mine disaster so that the trade union can disclose the information regarding the cause of the mine’s collapse as soon as possible.