Business

Amplats sceptical on saving jobs

Sapa

Talks between Anglo American Platinum, unions and the government are unlikely to save 14 000 jobs at the company's mines.

Talks between Anglo American Platinum, unions and the government are unlikely to save 14 000 jobs at the company's mines. (AFP)

Briefing Parliament's committee on mineral resources, Amplats chief executive Chris Griffith said the company was committed to talks aimed at finding possible alternatives to job losses.

Committee chairperson Fred Gona wanted an assurance that the talks would bear fruit.

"For you to shed so much jobs – 14 000 on top of the rate of unemployment which is so high in the country – is quite a shocking situation.

"Are you confident that indeed through these engagements there's a possibility that jobs will be saved?" Gona asked.

Griffith replied he doubted the talks would change the situation.

Increasing debt
"As a company, we've had a close look at what we can do, but no, I'm not at all confident that we're going to have some clever idea that all we had to do was think about that and this problem goes away and Anglo American Platinum all of a sudden becomes profitable."

Amplats' debt levels were rising, indicating how much difficulty the company was facing.

The level of debt went from R20-billion to R3-billion in 2010, after shareholders were asked to put money back into the company.

However, the levels had risen again in the last three years, reaching R1-billion.

"There may have been some years when we were making a profit on an operational basis, but we're not paying for all of our capital and as a result our debt levels have kept on increasing."

At the same time, losses due to industrial action were compounding the situation.

Uphill battle
?"Those [strikes] of course have taken away revenue that could have come into the company, which would have made the debt levels much less."

Griffith said the situation was not catastrophic and could be turned around.

"It's not just going to come right next month or next year ... ," he said.

Chamber of Mines economist Roger Baxter echoed Griffith's concerns and said the industry faced an uphill battle against falling demand and increased input costs.

"South Africa faces a crisis as a result of an industry in crisis, and platinum mining matters for the growth of the economy," Baxter told MPs.

Half of the country's platinum mines suffered losses last year.

"At the global level, we've got a weak European market ... one of the biggest markets for platinum. At local level, costs have risen significantly, especially electricity costs and labour, and so a lot of the industry finds itself in unviable territory," said Baxter.

Power prices had gone up 238% for the industry in the past five years.

If Eskom got its way, the electricity price hike from 2007 to 2017 could reach 587%.

"It will drive much more of the platinum sector [into] the red, and that is just not good for anyone. It will lead to more restructuring and more job losses and nobody wants that." – Sapa

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