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S.Africa’s AMCU union says mine lay-offs aimed at its members

JOHANNESBURG, Aug 16 (Reuters) – The president of South Africa’s Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) vowed on Sunday to resist proposed lay-offs in the ailing mining sector, saying the aim was to “kill” his union.

Joseph Mathunjwa made the remarks in a televised address at a memorial marking the third anniversary of the slaying of 34 miners near platinum producer Lonmin (LSE: LMI.L – news) ‘s Marikana mine, who were shot dead by police during a violent wildcat strike.

“These retrenchments are orchestrated to kill AMCU,” Mathunjwa said.

“As AMCU we reject these plans and are preparing all our members for the mother of all struggles,” he said.

Mathunjwa did not say if AMCU, whose members have downed tools before to protest against planned job cuts, would strike, but he said the union would organise a march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the seat of South Africa’s government.

AMCU led a five-month strike last year in the platinum sector, where it unseated the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) as the dominant union in a vicious turf war. The Marikana violence three years ago was partly rooted in that struggle.

A number of mining companies including Glencore (Xetra: A1JAGV – news) , Kumba Iron Ore (Other OTC: KIROY – news) , Sibanye Gold, Lonmin and Anglo American Platinum have said they plan to cut staff in the face of depressed prices and rising costs, but face pressure from unions and the government to maintain jobs.

The NUM, South Africa’s largest mining union despite its losses in the platinum sector, has said 11,000 of its members could lose their jobs under planned cost cutting.

Mathunjwa, in typically combative language, said on Sunday that AMCU would “seek to protect our members against exploitative capitalists who seek to make a profit at all costs”.

He said that after AMCU members were laid off, the prices of precious metals would rebound.

This is a common theme of the union, which sees South Africa’s economy in stark class and racial terms, with foreign capital manipulating markets to exploit black miners.

South African President Jacob Zuma said on Sunday that 1 billion rand ($ 78 million) had been allocated in the budget this financial year for housing in mining communities.

“This is anticipated to deliver approximately 19,000 housing opportunities in mining towns,” Zuma said in a statement.

Poor social conditions and squalid housing are seen as reasons behind the labour tensions in the mining sector.

($ 1 = 12.8216 rand) (Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Dale Hudson)

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