Around 2000 mineworkers, angry at Anglo American Platinum’s plans to cut 6900 jobs in South Africa, protested on Tuesday, but said they would meet management before deciding on strike action.
Miners gathered at the Khomanani shaft in the northern city of Rustenburg to protest against Amplats’s plan, announced days after the anniversary of police shooting dead 34 miners at the nearby Marikana mine.
“The workers are not happy with the job losses,” said Joseph Mathunjwa, president of main worker labour group the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).
“Job losses should come as a last resort,” Mathunjwa told AFP.
But amid a wave of strikes that have roiled the sector, AMCU officials were set to meet with management on Wednesday to discuss options.
“We’re not going to strike right now,” said Gaddafi Mdoda, the branch leader at Khomanani, which is expected to close.
Miners voiced anger and fear about the plans, which would dramatically restructure operations to save costs.
“They never discussed it with us, now it’s happening,” said Mike Simane, 27, a surveyor who had just finished his shift underground.
“No one wants to lose their jobs.”
Themba, a 45-year-old worker, was unsure of his future after 23 years’ service at the mine.
“I’ve got a family. I feel very bad. People here, they’ve got families too,” he said.
Many said they feared the decision was retribution for joining the AMCU, an often militant labour union which has become a major political force by taking a hard-line position in wage talks.
“The workers think the employer wants to replace them with new workers, since they became AMCU,” said Mathunjwa.
High wage bills and increased electricity costs have obliterated the firm’s profits, and analysts warned of job cuts as early as last year following post-Marikana wage increases.
Amplats, the world’s top platinum producer, posted a net loss of 1.468 billion rand ($A159.98 million) in 2012, though it reported last month it had booked profits of 1.2 billion rand in the first half of 2013.
Many of the chanting crowd at the Khomanani shaft wore the trademark green t-shirts of the AMCU, which muscled out the once-dominant National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) at the mine in January.
The battle has left a trail of murders, with leaders of both unions the victims of apparent tit-for-tat killings.
Amplats had first proposed around 14,000 job cuts in January, but later backed down under government pressure.
The firm said some employees could opt for voluntary severance, early retirement and redeployment to avoid retrenchment.
The once-dominant NUM, now a minority union at the mine, said on Monday it condemned the restructuring “in the strongest words possible”.
The union accused Amplats of reneging on an earlier agreement to cut only 3000 jobs.
Amplats, which accounts for almost 40 per cent of global platinum sales, said it will aim for production of 2.2 million to 2.4 million platinum ounces per year.
The restructuring would be a hammer blow to the mining-dependent Rustenburg area, and for South Africa’s economy, which has seen glacial growth amid unemployment of more than 25 per cent.
Amplats has been one of several major international mining companies pummelled by labour unrest.
On Friday the comrades and families of 34 miners shot dead by South African police during a strike at the Marikana mine marked the first anniversary of the bloodbath, which shocked the world and the mining sector.