North West seeks to counter retrenchments in the mining sector

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With the mining sector, which is the main driver of the North West’s economy, facing large-scale retrenchments, the province is faced with tough challenges. Over the past few years, various mining companies have retrenched thousands of their employees as they either close some of the old shafts or embark on restructuring processes.

The North West relies on mining, particularly platinum, for about 30% of its economic output.

However, the past few years have seen depreciation in the price of this precious metal because of falling global demand and other factors. This has led to thousands of miners being retrenched.

In September, Sibanye Stillwater, which acquired Lonmin operations in Rustenburg, announced that it would lay off 5 000 employees as part of restructuring.

Speaking on behalf of the North West Premier, Health MEC Madoda Sambatha says there has to be a plan to counter this by up-skilling or re-skilling mineworkers who are working or have been retrenched.

“The problem with job-losses and retrenchments is that workers are not made to be ready with skills so that post life of mining, they could easily be ‘absorbable’ to other industries that the company would have contributed to.”

Chief economist at the Minerals Council of South Africa, Henk Langenhoven, says the industry supports this stance.

“The companies themselves, I mean, it’s not in their interest to lose people that they’ve trained. When that sort of decision happens, it’s sad. The importance is that the footprint of the mining companies in this area will hopefully stimulate enough or other economic activities, which may last longer than the mine itself because we all know mine starts and the mine ends. It dies and then you often have ghost towns.”

The Mineworkers Development Agency is already working to re-skill retrenched mineworkers. It helps the miners identify the sectors they have an interest in and provides them with expert advise on how to access opportunities in those areas to enable them to feed their families.

Luthando Brukwe, from the MDA says the agency, mostly looks at how to re-skill retrenched miners.

“The agency’s work has mostly looked at how do you first re-skill and up-skill former workers for them to access the opportunities in various sectors. But secondly, food security and poverty alleviation … the issue of access to food security is imperative.”

With the prospect of more job-losses in the mining industry, there are concerns that without the proper skills, retrenched workers will struggle to survive.

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