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NUM fears mineworkers are being ‘sacrificed for profits’

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‘We are perplexed by CEOs who refuse to test workers to establish if they are affected by the coronavirus and want to implement screening only.’

THE KIMBERLEY Region of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has expressed its disappointment and concern following the decision taken by the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, to allow mines to operate at 50% capacity.

According to a statement issued by the mineworkers union, since the announcement by Mantashe that mining companies could operate at 50% of production, mines in the Northern Cape “have taken advantage of that and have taken short cuts in implementing the return to work business plan”.

“We have engaged with almost every company in the Northern Cape, part of the Free State and the North West, including contractors. We are very disappointed and perturbed by the attitudes of these mines. They are exposing workers to the risk of contracting the coronavirus and they are not adhering to the regulations. There is no compliance on critical issues outlined in the regulations of Covid-19 for mines to operate at 50% capacity. They are forcing employees to take unpaid leave,” said NUM Kimberley Region secretary Cornelius Manhe.

“We are perplexed by CEOs who refuse to test workers to establish if they are affected by the coronavirus and want to implement screening only. Screening cannot be the only way to determine whether employees are affected by Covid-19 or not. We thus call upon the CEOs to reverse their decision in this regard if they care about their employees.” 

Manhe stated further that the majority of mining companies had refused to pay employees their salaries, stating that they had applied to the Department of Labour for UIF as they did not have the “financial muscle” to pay salaries. “The NUM has rejected this attitude of some of the employers because these employers were making huge profits before Covid-19. They never declared that they had financial constraints.”

According to Manhe, some companies had even gone as far as cutting the salaries of employees by a third, which, he added, was a direct undermining of regulations.

“Nowhere has the regulations ever suggested that employers can cut workers’ salaries. Another worrying factor is the issue of transport. The regulations are clear that companies must arrange transport for all employees during the lockdown.”

He stated that a further critical point of contention were mine cages. “Employers are arguing that a reduced number of employees are placed in a cage. However, we feel that this is still risky because it is difficult to adhere to social distancing in a cage.”

The NUM called on its members not to hesitate to initiate Section 23 of the Mine Health and Safety Act. “This is the only legal recourse they can utilise to protect themselves from endangering their health and safety. Section 23 of the Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA) empowers mineworkers ro refuse to work in dangerous environments.”

The union called on the Department of Minerals and Energy (DMRE) to immediately close mining companies that are not in compliance with the regulations. “We further call on the Department of Labour to send out inspectors to monitor the compliance of contractors operating at mines because employers in this sector are known for not complying to legislation.”

Manhe added that the coronavirus is “way more dangerous than just the flu” and is killing thousands of people around the world. “Many countries have declared war on the virus including South Africa.

“NUM members and other workers cannot be sacrificed for profits during this crisis. We expect all mining companies in South Africa to adhere to the strict health and safety measures in fighting the virus in their operations. The NUM calls on its members to refuse to work in mines and operations where necessary strict measures are not put in place to protect them from the virus. The NUM will not hesitate to name and shame mining companies that are not adhering to the strict health and safety measures in fighting the virus.”