(Updates with minister saying 32,000 mining jobs at risk)
PRETORIA, Jan 28 (Reuters) - South Africa’s mines minister said on Thursday that 32,000 workers in the sector could lose their jobs following a slump in commodity prices due to slowing economic growth in China, the world’s biggest metals consumer.
Firms in the mining industry which employs more than 400,000 people and contributes around 7 percent to Africa’s most industrialised economy, have warned that they have to cut costs and close struggling mines to cope with sinking commodity prices, rising costs and labour unrest.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said on Sep. 28 that about 22,000 jobs in the industry were under threat and urged the government to intervene to save jobs.
Mining minister Mosebenzi Zwane said this figure had risen.
“The figures were at 23,000, they are currently at 32,000 but not everybody has lost jobs as it had been indicated ... we have plans that we put together with the stakeholders to mitigate the effect of job losses,” he said at a press conference in the capital Pretoria televised by ENCA channel.
“Those plans will include, among others, re-skilling of workers ... transferring workers from this mine that has a problem to other mines just to mention but a few,” he said.
The mining ministry has held many rounds of talks with companies and unions over planned job cuts, as President Jacob Zuma’s government frets over high unemployment ahead of municipal elections later this year.
More than a quarter of the population is unemployed in South Africa where food prices are also rising due to a drought, a combination that could hurt the ruling African National Congress’ chances in the local government polls expected after May.
Panic has gripped the sector after mining firms announced plans to scale back sharply owing to the commodities slump.
Global miner Anglo American has said it would sell assets, whittle its business by nearly two-thirds and shed jobs to cope with the severe fall in commodity prices.
Platinum producers, including Lonmin , Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum, have drawn the ire of unions over their plans for job cuts.
Zwane also addressed the issue of mine fatalities, announcing that 77 workers were killed in mining accidents in 2015, the lowest number on record and down from 84 in 2014.
South Africa’s mines are the deepest and among the most dangerous in the world. However, industry fatalities have been falling, a trend rooted in improved safety practices and a shrinking labour force as production declines. (Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)