Shocking statistics reflecting the retrenchment of 35 000 workers in January this year might only be the tip of the iceberg for South African strikers engaged in yet more wage negotiations in the mining sector that no one can win.

CCMA director Nerine Kahn says the CCMA is confident a mediated solution can be found as the current talks resume today between the Association of Mineworkers Construction Union (Amcu) and the world’s top three platinum producers, but at what cost?

Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Impala Platinum and Lonmin have reported losses of R198 million per day with employees losing up to R88 million per day in wages. Roger Baxter, the chief operations officer at the Chamber of Mines, estimates that that the daily cost to the country is closer to R400m a day – quite a serious number, especially when multiplied by the 21 days that have passed since 80 000 miners downed tools on Thursday 23 January.

“South Africa is facing a no-win situation in the mining sector,” says Franz Stehring, Uasa Divisional Manager responsible for mining sector workers in labour union Uasa. “While negotiations and the strike actions by Amcu around the demand for remuneration of R12 500 per month is continuing, we fear for the worst.”

Last year Uasa was involved in protracted consultations with key mines to cut costs, improve productivity and implement numerous strategies to improve efficiencies and save the jobs of “thousands of workers,” Stehring says. But continuing strike action by Amcu threatens to undo this hard work.

Prolonged strike action and labour unrest is expected to have a devastating effect on a country’s economy and is undermining investor confidence, an issue addressed at the 2014 Mining Indaba in Capte Town last week. With the rand trading at near five-year lows, there is increasing uncertainty over how to overcome these challenges.

“Extended strike action will have severe consequences not only for the industry, but also for employees and their dependants as well as for the country as a whole, with no prospect for gain,” says platinum CEOs Chris Griffith, Terence Goodlace and Ben Magara.

“We don’t want to be prophets of doom, but we have to be realistic,” says Stehring. “Irrespective of a settlement being reached or not, we predict that the waves of strike action caused irreparable harm which might prove too much for certain mining operations to survive.  As a consequence, thousand more workers in an already crippled mining sector could become part of our unemployment statistics.”

By: Vicky Sidler

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