Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant. Picture: ALET PRETORIUS
Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant. Picture: ALET PRETORIUS

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant says mining companies are not making use of the government’s training layoff scheme, which has a fund of more than R2bn to up-skill retrenched workers.

In an exclusive interview with Business Day, Oliphant said mining companies were avoiding having to declare their finances to the Labour Department and disclose the real reasons behind retrenchments.

The Commission for Conciliation and Arbitration said it had received 36 retrenchment referrals by mining companies since the beginning of 2017, while the Chamber of Mines places overall job losses in the industry at 70,000 since 2012.

The training layoff scheme was established shortly after the 2008 global recession as companies shut down due to economic pressure.

However, the scheme has recorded little success and the minister blamed this on the intransigent attitude of business.

She said even the services provided by Productivity SA to struggling companies were not being taken up.

"When we look at the mining sector, they do not even say they are in distress, they just retrench. In most cases, however, when there is an increase in the wages, they will come and say ‘we are retrenching because we cannot afford it’," Oliphant said.

"The question is why they are not willing to come publicly to say ‘we need help’," she said.

The Chamber of Mines denied there was a link between mining companies not using the training layoff scheme and unwillingness to disclose their finances as this was already being done to comply with section 189 of the Labour Relations Act.

Chamber spokeswoman Charmane Russell listed a number of challenges that stood in the way of mining companies "fully embracing" the training layoff scheme.

According to Russell, these include: the structure of the scheme, which is bureaucratic and cumbersome with regard to payments and administration; and the tough financial and economic environment that mining companies find themselves in, which makes the identification of re-absorption opportunities for employees who would be going through the training challenging if not impossible.

It shows that employers are not interested in training mine workers in portable skills that will help them survive beyond the retrenchment

However, National Union of Mineworkers spokesman Livhuwani Mammburu said the training of retrenched mineworkers was part of the mining industry’s signed commitment to save jobs and ameliorate the effect of job losses, a declaration that was agreed to by all stakeholders in 2015.

He said the failure by business to take advantage of the scheme boiled down to a "lack of concern" about the future of retrenched mine workers, who were likely to end up destitute.

"It shows that employers are not interested in training mine workers in portable skills that will help them survive beyond the retrenchment.

"The money is available to train miners, but they simply don’t care," he said.

According to Mammburu, the "late" disclosure of retrenchment plans by mining companies also meant that even if unions wanted to fight for them to train workers, such an initiative would not fit into the 60-day notice employers are allocated to conclude negotiations with unions.

Oliphant warned that the fund would be reviewed if it remained underused.

She said conditions under which the fund had been established had changed, and while the country’s economy was still under strain, it was not the same crisis as that experienced during the recession.

mahlakoanat@businesslive.co.za

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