* Includes 900 white-collar jobs
* Government, unions have resisted plans
* Amplats says needs to cut jobs to remain viable
* Plan could stoke tension, provoke strikes
By Sherilee Lakmidas and Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 19 Anglo American Platinum
(Amplats) said it planned almost 7,000 job cuts at its South
African operations including thousands of compulsory lay-offs,
drawing an angry response from a labour union and raising the
risk of renewed unrest at its mines.
Amplats, the world's top platinum producer and a
unit of Anglo American, had aimed for 14,000 job cuts
after posting its first loss last year, but lowered the target
after a backlash from the government and the unions, which
organised a series of strikes.
After months of consultations with government officials and
worker representatives, the company said 6,000 mining jobs would
go and that "approximately 900 corporate and overhead employees
will also be affected".
The addition of white-collar job cuts might alleviate some
criticism of the lay-off plan, since not only blue-collar
workers would be affected.
But at least one union saw the decision by Amplats as a
betrayal, saying the company had committed only last week to
avoiding forced lay-offs.
"We are shocked. Our agreement with Amplats was to cut 3,000
jobs and those jobs would not be forced retrenchments but
voluntary severance packages. This agreement was reached a week
ago," said National Union of Mineworkers spokesman Lesiba
A source familiar with the talks said about a third of the
6,000 cuts would be made via voluntary redundancy, retirement
and redeployment. That means around 4,000 are likely to be laid
The job cuts will lower production and may lend support to
prices of platinum, used in emissions-capping catalytic
converters in automobiles. The white metal's price has been
depressed by poor global demand.
"We are at a critical stage of the process and this
restructuring will be a crucial step to enable us to return to
profitability," said Amplats Chief Executive Chris Griffith.
A month's notice period for the targeted employees will
commence on Sept. 1, said Griffith.
Amplats has a high rate of employee turnover in its South
African mines and the company may shed some jobs by not
replacing departing miners.
The issue of mining jobs is sensitive in South Africa ahead
of elections next year and comes as companies and unions lock
horns in the toughest ever talks over wages.
Mining companies are struggling to cut costs to deal with a
drop in metal prices, while an increasingly militant union
movement is pushing hard for better pay and working conditions
Officials from NUM's arch-rival, the Association of
Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), whose activists
staged the strikes at Amplats mines this year, were not
reachable for comment on the job cut plans.
More than 60 people have died in violent strikes in South
Africa's platinum belt and gold regions since a bitter turf war
between NUM and AMCU was taken from the shafts to the streets.
NUM is a key ally of President Jacob Zuma's ruling African
National Congress and the defection of tens of thousands of
members to AMCU has meant a potential loss of votes, helping
explain why the government has been keen to see a reduction in
the number of job cuts at Amplats.
Job losses may also be in the offing in the gold sector,
where about half of the shafts are estimated to be losing money.
Unions and boardrooms in the bullion industry are in wage
talks and remain poles apart, with the NUM demanding pay hikes
as large as 60 percent. A strike notice could be issued as early
as this week if talks remain deadlocked.
South Africa's black mine labour force is mostly
semi-literate and drawn from rural, peasant areas far from the
mine shafts. Those laid off will struggle to find a new
livelihood in a country with an official jobless rate of around
25 percent, but which many analysts believe is over 40 percent.
The process of cutting jobs at Amplats has dragged on for
months and Monday's announcement looked like the company's final
But the unions are likely to resist, raising the prospect of
more strikes and possible unrest.
Amplats is aiming for annual production of 2.2 to 2.4
million ounces. Last year, the company produced 2.379 million
ounces but output may well have been higher if not for strikes.