The National Union of Mineworkers Youth Structure (NUMYS) is extremely unhappy and concerned by the decision taken by the National Command Council to allow mines in South Africa to operate at 50%.  

On the 16 April, 2020 National Command Council announced amendments on the regulations for the mining sector, which are aimed at allowing a phased economic activity which gives permission for mines to operate at 50% capacity and will gradually increase capacity. 

We view this move as informed by nothing but profit and has no regard for human lives. The belief that mines will collapse should they close for a longer period is putrid and lack science. When a mine is closed for longer period companies activate startup processing to deal with assessments, examining the ground and testing of gases. Therefore it cannot be used as an excuse for companies to recall workers back to work as monitoring does require 50% of the workforce.

Mining companies have proven once again that they are impetuous and have no regard for the lives of our members, they put production at the centre of everything. Our stance on the impracticability of social distancing within the mining industry remains unmoved. The nature of operation in our workplaces requires us to work in proximity as a means of safety and effective production. This speaks to the transportation of employees to and from a place of work, conveyance to and from underground.

We call on the National Command Council to visit all the mines and check the practicality and possibilities of preventing the spread of COVID-19 before granting any mine permission to operate. This is informed by the fact that employers have applied for exemptions before working on safety precautions. There are already companies which have started their operations yet failed to provide transport for workers, of which the new amendment dictate that employers must provide transport for workers from their homes to their work stations. 

These are also companies that have sent bulk SMSes to employees, informing them to report back to work. These SMSes are sent to the total workforce and not 50% as prescribed, yet there is no communique about transport arrangements. We wish to emphasize that the transportation of employees remains the responsibility of the employer. As the NUMYS we demand that no employee should be subjected to a discipline hearing and/or not paid for the failure to report for duty when transport was never arranged.

The re-opening of the mines also speak to suppliers because mines cannot operate without secondary sources. This move will take 70% of our population back to the street hence we view this as premature decision and has potential to resurgence the virus later on and wrecking all efforts to fight this pandemic and should mine worker incur this virus at work, mine bosses and Minister Gwede Mantashe must be charged accordingly. 

In support of the call to help resuscitate our ailing economy, we wish to implore the DMRE together with Health Ministry and the Transport Ministry to ensure that mining companies comply with the conditions set out in the amended regulations on mining operations during the lockdown. Thorough presentations should be done on the state of preparedness by the mines to deal with COVID-19 in the workplace given the new regulations. We further demand that NUM branches be part of such presentations as representatives of our workers. Training and awareness must be made provided to workers who are recalled for duty during this period. 

We applaud the work of the justice system for holding to account the Implats CEO, Mark Monroe who is alleged to have contravened the lockdown regulations. We also call for the arrest of all other CEOs of mining companies that forced their employees to return to work without the approval National COVID-19 Command Council and we are to follow these cases

Energy Sector

There is a set of unsung heroes and heroines, who are in the frontline risking their lives daily to keep the lights on, these are Eskom workers.

The NUM has been informed by workers, that certain operations do not have sufficient PPE. This puts our members and colleagues at risk of getting infected by this brutal pandemic. We have noted with big disappointment a lot of inconsistency on how COVID-19 PPE is issued to Eskom workers. There are Operating Units with disposable suits for workers visiting customers’ houses daily, while in other Operating Units, the request for the very same PPE was declined by Eskom Management. The NUM has proposed this kind of PPE to Eskom Management from the very beginning, before lockdown, but Eskom Management did not listen as usual.

We demand that Eskom take the safety of our members and other workers more seriously and provide all workers with the appropriate, sufficient and approved PPE to fight this virus. 

Being aware that Eskom workers are declared essential service providers, this does not mean they are declared to work in such dangerous conditions and we hereby urge Eskom to consider an arrangement of risk allowance or incentives for those who volunteered to work during this period. This is among other factors, informed by other sectors and companies which provide risk allowance to workers. These workers have a daily chance of taking this virus home to their families. With that risk identified, they still raised their hands to be part of the team to keep the lights on. 

While some areas are not provided with sanitizers, some are provided with sanitizers with no manufacturer safety data sheet (MSDS), we don’t know whether these are indeed sanitizers which can kill the virus. We are also aware of the ill-prepared medical response, as some clinic facilities are not well equipped and staff not provided with appropriate PPE nor trained. In certain sections, there is no water, ablution facilities or scanners. One would wonder how Eskom is dealing with hygiene and mitigating factors in such areas. 

We call on the government to arrest any manager or executive who violate the lockdown regulations for their narrow interest and exposing workers to this virus.

Construction sector

In the many years of the construction sector in SouthAfrica, the youth has been more likely to lose jobs than elders due to “Last In First Out” (LIFO) among other factors. 

Young workers are faced with unsafe and casual work in this sector and the economy has failed to create decent work for them. Under these circumstances and environment, young workers indeed need a strong union to be their voice. 

The construction sector plays a major role in infrastructure development in the country. Workers are a major component of this sector. Many young people are employed in this sector and they are mostly at the receiving end when retrenchment or restructuring is concerned. 

We would like to urge the government to ensure that workers are paid during this lockdown. We would also want to urge that in this sector, stakeholders should be properly consulted when lockdown regulations are to be amended.

We welcome the intervention by the Department of Minerals Resources and Energy (DMRE) on companies which issued and those which are still intending to serve the notice of Section 189 of the Labor Relations act,(LRA). The companies that have already issued notice are instructed to withdraw as the minister has committed to engage all companies which are experiencing distress during this period and the government must also commit that there will be no job losses post this period.

To our members and fellow South Africans, both young and old let us continue to heed to the call of the President of the South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa. Stay at home, practice social distancing, wash hands regularly and uphold good hygiene standards.

Together we can fight this Pandemic as a nation.

For more information, please contact:

Bonginkosi Mrasi: NUM Youth Structure National Secretary: 078 188 4300.

Livhuwani Mammburu: NUM National Spokesperson: 083 809 3257