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Assmang’s Machadodorp works teeters on the brink

As is already well known and as has been previously reported in THG, Assmang Chrome’s Machadodorp Works retrenched more than 200 staff (± 60% of its workforce) on Friday 24 October 2014.

This, despite protestations from Assmang management, as well as labour organisation Solidarity that “everything possible was being done” to ensure that such a drastic step would not actually materialise. Well, it did. And now more than 200 workers are unemployed – with their chances of finding replacement jobs any time soon are not exactly looking good.

Whereas THG sympathises with the Assmang workers that have already lost their jobs – what about the remaining 40% of Assmang’s Machadodorp workforce? If “the grapevine” in the town is even to be half-believed, their days are also numbered - with the likelihood of the entire operation being either sold or mothballed sounding very likely. After all, as unpleasant as that prospect may be to contemplate for the remaining workforce, the bald economic facts speak for themselves: The economic outlook has worsened in recent months, not improved. Demand for the Machadodorp Works’ product has declined (or, at the very least, remained static), whilst input costs continue to escalate – with substantial new Eskom electricity tariffs scheduled to come into effect early in 2015 to make matters worse. Realistically, all these factors add up to the Machadodorp Works becoming even more of a financial albatross for Assmang/ARM and thus even more reason to axe the remaining workforce and shut the works down. Unpalatable, but nonetheless probable.

It is well known that, in the months leading up to the lay-offs, the “cream” of Assmang’s senior staff – including ex. SGM Ashley McLeod – were re-deployed within the group or posted to other Assmang/African Rainbow Minerals projects (ie. the new smelter being constructed in east Malaysia) – conveniently before the company hatchet men were brought in to “dot the i’s and cross the t’s””, ie. prepare the ground to ditch the ordinary workers. Assmang then went right ahead and retrenched. They did it before, they can and will do it again. It’s all about money, all about the bottom line – and often very little about the lives and livelihoods of the average worker. And when it comes to money, or no shortage thereof, billionaire Assmang/ARM boss, Patrice Motsepe, recently donated US$ 1 million (±R10 million) to help fight Ebola in West Africa. All very philanthropic and laudable, but cold comfort for the recently unemployed or soon to be unemployed of Machadodorp.

Despite numerous attempts to reach the following key players for comment and/or clarification, these are the results:
Paul Botha – Caretaker GM at the Machadodorp Works – no response
Dirk Hattingh – Head, HR – Machadodorp Works – no comment, passed on THG’s request for comment to Assmang H.O.
Assmang H.O. – no response
Cornelius van Leeuwen – Labour Organiser, Soildarity – no response

And these are the folks that are (supposed) to have the best interests of the workforce at heart. A gloomy outlook indeed then, if those “in the know” close up like little clams when a few rather pointed questions are posed. Do they have something to hide?


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