* Company agreed to postpone job cuts consultation
* Up to 14,000 layoffs still an option
* Unemployment a pressing issue for ANC-led government
By Olivia Kumwenda
JOHANNESBURG, Jan 29 Anglo American Platinum Ltd
has briefly delayed a restructuring that puts up to
14,000 jobs at risk to allow more time for talks with the
government and unions.
The world's largest platinum producer, known as Amplats,
agreed late on Monday to defer by two weeks a consultation on
its planned layoffs which could amount to around 3 percent of
the country's mining labour force.
Amplats wants to mothball loss-making mines as part of a
turnaround plan that has drawn criticism from the African
National Congress (ANC)-led government, under pressure to tackle
high unemployment ahead of general elections next year.
A new cellphone video of the police shooting of 34 striking
miners in South Africa in August emerged on Monday, another
political flashpoint and a grim reminder of the mining violence
that killed over 50 people last year.
Amplats Chief Executive Chris Griffith told Talk Radio 702
on Tuesday that talks with the government had been
"What we agreed on is we would delay the consultation
process," he said.
The legally required consultation will now start on Jan. 30
instead of Jan. 15 and last for 60 days.
South Africa boasts 80 percent of the world's platinum
deposits but producers have been hit by rising input costs,
falling prices, safety stoppages and violent labour unrest.
Amplats' delay to consulting on the layoffs may give the
company more time to sell its revival plan to the government or
find alternatives, although analysts say other options would be
"I don't actually know what they have achieved by all of
this and I would be very surprised if anything changes," said
Justin Froneman, platinum analyst at SBG Securities in
Amplats, which expects to post a loss for the 2012 financial
year, says its outlined closure of two mines around the restive
platinum belt city of Rustenburg is vital to restoring
"This is not about playing games. The company is in real
trouble," Griffith told the radio station.
Parent Anglo American, which on Tuesday announced a
$4 billion writedown to its Minas-Rio iron ore project in
Brazil, is under pressure to shore up margins and shareholders
will want at least part of the Amplats' plan to go ahead.
Froneman said SBG Securities estimates the two mines to be
put on "care and maintenance" - which means an indefinite
stoppage of production - between them had a gross loss of about
230 million rand ($25.58 million) last year.
Mining minister Susan Shabangu said Amplats had betrayed
government trust earlier this month by announcing the plan to
mothball shafts and lay off workers.
The African National Congress has been losing support in the
mines as the ANC-linked National Union of Mineworkers (NUM)
bleeds members in a turf war to the far more militant
Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).
Rank-and-file perceptions of both the ANC and the NUM are
that both have lost touch with the concerns of poor workers, in
a country where unemployment officially runs at around 25
percent but most economists believe it exceeds 40 percent.
AMCU activists have vowed to shut all of Amplats' operations
if the job cuts go ahead.
In a separate development, South Africa's third-largest gold
producer Harmony Gold said on Tuesday it had made
progress in talks with unions to reopen its Kusasalethu mine
that did not restart after the Christmas holidays, threatening
almost 6,000 jobs.
"We have made some progress today and we are one step closer
to finding a sustainable solution. However, the mine remains
closed until an agreement has been reached," Harmony Chief
Executive Graham Briggs said in a statement.