Tuesday 26 April 2016 4:06 pm

Unions warn that tens of thousands of industry jobs are at risk in South Africa

Tens of thousands of jobs in mining, metals and engineering are at risk in South Africa as firms cut costs due to the commodity rout.

South Africa's Solidarity union said today that more than 29,000 jobs could go in the mining sector, as well as 8,000 in the metal and engineering industry. The union, which generally represents skilled workers, said firms where its members work had received 88 lay-off notices in the past 12 months.

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Job cuts are an increasingly combustible political issue in a country whose ruling party — the African National Congress (ANC) faces a stern test in local elections in August. The unemployment rate in South Africa is more than 25 per cent and it's been rocked by a string of bloody industrial strikes.

"The current pattern and wave of retrenchments are very similar to the situation at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 which was the precursor to the recession," Solidarity general secretary, Gideon du Plessis, said during a presentation.

South Africa's economy is expected to slow down this year, hampered by policy uncertainty, weak commodity prices and the worst drought in a century. Its woes were compounded by President Jacob Zuma's shock firing of his finance minister in December.

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South Africa — which exports vast quantities of platinum, manganese and iron ore — has been hit hard by resource companies cutting costs in the face of declining profits. They've been hurt by sharp falls in commodity prices due to oversupply and slowing demand growth in top consumer China.

Anglo American unit, Diamond mining firm De Beers, announced plans in February to axe 189 positions in South Africa.

Last year, Platinum producer Lonmin said it intended to shut or mothball several mines, putting 6,000 South African jobs at risk.