'Around 22,000 mining jobs under threat'

The NUM is accusing companies of attacking government politically through layoffs.

A mine shaft. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - About 22,000 jobs are under threat in South Africa's beleaguered mining industry, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said on Monday, accusing companies of attacking the government politically through the layoffs.

South Africa's 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 key elections next year.

Firms in the mining industry, which contributes around 7 percent to Africa's most developed economy, have warned that they have to cut costs and close struggling mines to cope with sinking commodity prices, rising costs and labour unrest.

"We view the practices of the companies as a political attack on the government," NUM's General Secretary David Sipunzi told a news conference.

"We believe that the massive retrenchments may send a message that the ANC is useless and that it can't defend the workers," he added.

Sipunzi, who was elected to his post in June, has said he intended for NUM to remain a political ally of the ANC so it could inject itself into decision making.

In exchange, the union expected the party to pursue labour-friendly policies.

The NUM, it's rival the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and other smaller unions have been involved in wage talks with bullion producers AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold, Sibanye Gold and Evander Gold Mines since late June.

Last week, newly-appointed mines minister Mosebenzi Zwane said the government would challenge job cuts sweeping across the mining industry.

Platinum producers, including Lonmin, Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum, have also clashed with unions and government over their plans for job cuts.

Lonmin has said it was planning to close or mothball several mine shafts in a bid to survive plunging prices, putting 6,000 South African jobs at risk.

Zuma's ANC heads into 2016 local elections with its main rival the Democratic Alliance targeting wins in key metropolitan areas, including Gauteng.

The DA will target the ruling party on its inability to reduce stubbornly high unemployment, which officially stands at 25 percent but some experts believe is much higher.