South African Department of Mineral Resources and Energy(DMRE) will now be forced to impose strict safety guidelines on mining companies to protect mine workers from the novel coronavirus.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) announced Sunday that it had received an order from the labour court that safeguards the “lives and livelihoods of mineworkers.”
Part of the court order is that interim relief is granted, in the form of a national Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which is binding on all mines in South Africa.
The interim SOP is based on the recommendations of prominent health experts. AMCU says it will monitor compliance with the minimum standards.
“As AMCU we are truly elated by this victory of workers,” said AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa. He added, “It Is regrettable that the DMRE Ignored our letters and constructive proposals, which led to us having no other choice than to approach the Labour Court. At least now, the lives andlivelihoods of mineworkers can be protected,” Mathunjwa said.
While AMCU has consistently declared its support for the mines ramping up production, it
maintained the view that a return to work can only happen once national minimum
standards are in place.
Before apppaching court, AMCU wrote numerous letters to the DMRE, pleading with the Minister to set health and safety standards for mineworkers, who are uniquely vulnerable to Covid-19, including issues such as low levels of natural ventilation, as well as pre-existing conditions such as silicosis and tuberculosis.
The DMRE ignored these letters and therefore AMCU was forced to approach the court.
“Today we can truly celebrate May Day, as a day on which the most basic rights of workers
have been enhanced,” said Mathunjwa.
“Even if we had to use many resources, the end result is truly a massive victory that will undoubtedly save lives of mineworkers, their families as well as the communities”, he said.
The interim SOP in itself is a substantial improvement on the regulations and directives
issued earlier. The overriding difference is that the document is now a binding standard. For
the first time in history, there is a compulsion on mines to train mineworkers on how to use
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
There are specific provisions regarding the quality of face masks to be issued, as well as
social distancing in underground working places. The issue of hygiene also receives broad
attention, with provision for hand sanitiser not only at entrances, but also at exits.
It obliges employers to clean and sanitise surfaces, and screening is now required on a daily basis. The SOP also includes provision for the sterilisation of reusable PPE, communication with and reporting to local health authorities, as well as the appointment of a health professional to oversee the implementation of the SOP itself.
“This SOP will really assist us in the meantime while we engage on the national process to be completed by 18 May 2020,” said Mathunjwa. “Our biggest fear was about mineworkers in congested areas like cages and underground conveyancing, and this was also addressed by the SOP.
We will now monitor the compliance of mines with these standards, and as AMCU
we will support a responsible return to work, once we are satisfied that the mines comply.”
Mines are operating at half-capacity during the national lockdown in South Africa the world’s largest platinum, manganese and chrome ore producer.
The country has recorded over 6,336 cases of the coronavirus, of whom 123 have died.