NEWS
22/02/2018 06:32 SAST | Updated 22/02/2018 15:37 SAST

Optimum Mine CEO Must Face Striking Workers, But The Guptas Are not Answering The Phone

Workers want clarity on their future after the Guptas' crumbling empire threatens their jobs.

Ajay Gupta (in the red shirt and sunglasses) and Ronica Ragavan (in the pink shirt) at Optimum coal mine on February 07, 2018 in Middelburg.
Elizabeth Sejake/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Ajay Gupta (in the red shirt and sunglasses) and Ronica Ragavan (in the pink shirt) at Optimum coal mine on February 07, 2018 in Middelburg.

UPDATE

Optimum coal mine COO George van der Merwe told reporters on Thursday that the mine may not have the money to pay workers this month, although management was hopeful that arrangements they were making at the time would avoid this. Van der Merwe was meeting with with workers and union representatives picketing outside the mine.

EARLIER

The CEO of the Gupta-owned Optimum Coal Mine, George van der Merwe, must face hundreds of striking mine workers on Thursday with no information from the Gupta brothers on the future of the mine, according to Daily Maverick.

Mine workers downed tools this week over uncertainty about the future of the mine, and their jobs, following the raiding of properties owned by the Guptas, and the brothers' exit from the country.

The approximately 2,000 employees are also worried about the sale of Tegeta Exploration and Resources, the Gupta company that owns the mine. The mine is reportedly unable to pay its bills, there have been retrenchments, and the mine could be shut down for not fulfilling its social and labour commitments.

Van der Merwe has reportedly been left to face workers and clean up the mess, but the Guptas are not taking his calls.

His options include moving export coal at upfront payment and leasing part of Optimum's port slots at the Richards Bay Coal Terminal, but buyers are reportedly steering clear of the Guptas, fearing that their assets could be frozen as part of the investigation into their business.

The Guptas' purchase of Optimum is also possibly under investigation by the Hawks, Daily Maverick reported.

According to Business Day, workers are afraid they will not get paid on Friday because the Bank of Baroda, which is leaving the country, was handling the payments. The bank was the last bank that was willing to deal with the Guptas' accounts, but it too wants to shut them down. The Guptas are fighting this in court.

The National Union of Mineworkers reportedly said the workers would hand over a memorandum to Van der Merwe on Thursday and that there was now a "total shutdown" of operations at the mine.

Business Day reported this week that Optimum could lose its licence because it has stopped operating a water desalination plant, which it is required to do as part of its social and labour plan. This has caused the taps to run dry in the town of Hendrina, which relies on the plant.

The Guptas could not pay salaries in 2017 after they lost the first round of court battles with the Bank of Baroda to keep their bank accounts open, according to News24.

Ajay Gupta, now a fugitive from the Hawks, was last seen visiting the mine earlier this month.