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Assmang’s Machadodorp works to retrench 60% of workforce

Management at Assmang Chrome - Machadodorp Works, recently advised almost 60% of their workforce (220 employees) that their positions were likely to be made redundant in the near future due to consistently poor financial results and rising production costs. And fears are rising within the remaining, as yet unaffected employees, that they may well be next before the year is out.

Whereas the retrenchments are not yet 100% finalised, it has been reported by labour organisation Solidarity (with more than 100 of their members employed at the works and affected) that they are in receipt of Section 189 notices from Assmang. These notices are part of the retrenchment process in terms of SA labour law and are not issued lightly. According to Solidarity, there is another meeting scheduled between the labour organisation and Assmang management on October 7 to continue to seek viable alternatives to retrenchment of such a large number of employees, but prospects of good news for affected workers are slim. In this regard, a recent media statement by Solidarity organiser, Cornelius van Leeuwen, stated: “Various options are currently being considered, although there isn’t clarity at this stage what steps would eventually be taken.”

The Machadodorp smelter has posted dismal financial results for a number of years now and has been forced to make similar retrenchments on a number of occasions in the past in an effort to remain profitable and competitive. Now, faced with decreased demand for its product, rising labour costs and huge escalations in Eskom electricity tariffs, it would seem that the end of the road is near. One worker, who declined to be identified for fear of victimisation, and who had also received a retrenchment notification, told THG: “It has been difficult for a long time now. But this time, I think it is really the end. If it carries on like this, everybody could be gone and the whole place closed up before Christmas.”

The fact is, Assmang has been the primary employer in Machadodorp for many years and the “bread and butter” of hundreds of families are directly tied to the fortunes of the company. With the economic engine of the town faltering and in danger of stalling, the local economy is bracing itself for hard times - with these retrenchments representing a serious body blow to the town and all residents. Despite the fact that Solidarity has promised to do “everything in its power to limit the impact of the retrenchments on its members and on the entire Machadodorp community”, this is seen as scant comfort. It will be doubly hard then, for workers struggling with an already difficult economic climate and high rural unemployment levels, to face not only a bleak festive season, but also a new year with few opportunities for fresh employment.