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S Africa platinum giant plans major job cuts

Anglo American Platinum plans to cut 6,000 jobs, less than half initially proposed, as unions vow to 'fight' losses.

Last Modified: 10 May 2013 15:26
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Some union activists say they will not tolerate any job losses, saying they are "willing to fight" [AFP]

Anglo American Platinum has said it would cut 6,000 mining jobs in South Africa, fewer than half the 14,000 initially proposed, as it strives to restore profits without triggering a backlash from the government and restive unions.

The world's top platinum producer, a unit of Anglo American, added in an announcement on Friday that it would also keep open one of four shafts slated for closure near the platinum belt city of Rustenburg.

However, the cuts will take 250,000 ounces out of global platinum production this year and a further 100,000 ounces a year in the medium term, the company said. Initially, Amplats had wanted to cut output by 400,000 ounces.

The reduced number of job losses is likely to soften the blow for South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC), which faces an election next year, but it remains to be seen if it appeases the anger of powerful local unions.

Industry sources had told the Reuters news agency last week the final plan, hammered out after months of tough talks with the government, would demand as few as 5,000 redundancies.

Hours before the announcement, activists from the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) in Rustenburg, where the main impact of the lay-offs will be felt, said they would not tolerate any job losses.

"Even if it's 5,000 or 6,000 jobs, they must not be lost. Where will 6,000 people in this economy go? They will engage in criminality," Simon Hlongwane, a winch operator and AMCU branch secretary at Amplats' Thembelani mine, told Reuters.

'Ready to fight'

"We as AMCU stand ready to fight."

Social tensions are running high after violence rooted in a labour turf war between AMCU and the dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) killed more than 50 people last year and provoked illegal strikes that hit production.

The unrest was a major reason why Amplats suffered its first loss last year.

With unemployment at more than 25 percent and elections due next year, the government has taken a strong line in the negotiations with Amplats.

The average South African mineworker has eight dependants, so the social and political consequences even of reduced lay-offs will be far reaching. AMCU has made good on strike promises in the past, including in January when it briefly closed several mines when the initial Amplats plan was unveiled.

Its leaders said in Johannesburg on Thursday they would not back such wildcat strike action.

For Amplats, reining in costs and cutting production to such an extent that it lifts the price of platinum - used for emissions-capping catalytic converters in motor vehicles - is crucial to getting back to profit.

AMCU emerged as the dominant union in the platinum shafts last year after it poached tens of thousands of disgruntled members from the NUM, a political ally of the ruling African National Congress.

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