Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

THE Competition Tribunal on Wednesday gave the parties involved in the acquisition of Optimum Coal by the Gupta family-owned Tegeta until Friday to make new submissions on how to word a commitment not to cut jobs as a direct result of the merger.

The tribunal heard submissions from the merging parties, who argued it could be difficult to distinguish retrenchments due to operational requirements and those resulting from the merger, with tribunal hearing chairman Norman Manoim giving parties until Friday to find a solution.

Last week the Competition Commission recommended the approval of Tegeta Exploration and Resources’ acquisition of the Optimum mine and six other units — on condition there were no job cuts.

Glencore had placed Optimum in business rescue after Eskom refused to renegotiate a coal-supply deal.

Submitting on behalf of the commission on Wednesday, Daniela Bove argued that the monitoring of post-merger retrenchments be undertaken to prevent merger-related job cuts.

Tegeta is partly owned by the Gupta family’s Oakbay Investments, and the sale of the colliery had raised suspicion that the family, who are close friends of President Jacob Zuma, could receive special treatment from the utility.

But the commitment not to cut jobs due to the merger has been welcomed by trade unions.

The United Association of SA was the only union to make submissions on Wednesday, saying its members were looking for a commitment of a time period over which retrenchments would not take place.

However, Greta Engelbrecht, on behalf of the merging parties, said the commitment not to retrench "was not just a public relations exercise … but there are difficulties".

On Wednesday the commission noted there had been no other potential buyers for Optimum, which has a contract with Eskom until 2018.

Eskom is considering a new supply contract from Koornfontein, one of the mines included in the deal.

However, Tegeta was not the only bidder, with the commission hearing on Wednesday that the other bidder — empowerment consortium Endulwini — had not provided sufficient proof of funding.

However, in a submission on behalf of the consortium, Peter Temane said it was untrue that no funds were available.

Tegeta director Nazeem Howa submitted on Wednesday that the business plan put in place envisaged growth and had satisfied the business rescue practitioners.

"The business plan is essentially aimed at growing the revenue through supply, and not through cost cutting," he said.