The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is deeply concerned with the latest 196 COVID-19 positive cases reported at AngloGold Ashanti Mponeng Mine near Carletonville, west of Johannesburg. There are also 10 COVID-19 positive cases reported at Moab Khutsong mine in Matlosana. The NUM has expressed serious concerns after the mines were allowed to operate at 50% by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE). Our reasoning behind this was informed by the issue of compliance, which was and is still highly compromised by the mines. And we further called upon the regulator the DMRE to stop with immediate effect all this operation until all safety measures were adhered to. The NUM was opposed to the blanket approach because we wanted the mines to strictly adhere to COVID_19 regulations that included screening, testing, transportation, PPE to Health workers and quarantine places. We felt that those regulations should be a priority to all mining companies before the granting of an exemption to resume operation. Social distancing was not even observed during the time.
The NUM now feels vindicated that we were correct when we opposed the mines to operate at 50%. There is now an outbreak of the virus in the mining industry and the infections are increasing at an alarming rate. Where is the regulatory department during this time of calamity in the mining industry? The NUM proposes that all mining operations that have a high number of COVID-19 infections to be temporarily closed until the situation is remedied. All workers must be paid 100% of their salaries during the temporary closure of the affected mines. All mine managers whose companies are not adhering to the COVID-19 regulations must be arrested. We will not allow a situation where our members and other workers are sacrificed for profits by these heartless and evil mining companies.
Mining companies must follow strict Covid-19 health and safety protocols in their screening and testing of workers to avoid situations where mines and mining communities become clusters of Covid-19 infections.
The NUM views occupational health and safety as a matter of workers’ rights and employers’ responsibilities. Mining companies have the responsibility to ensure safe and healthy workplaces. The NUM has always insisted on the right to participate in the decision-making on what controls will be implemented. That means Joint Health and Safety Committees and trade union safety representatives must be fully involved in the design, implementation, and monitoring of all measures taken. Section 23 of the Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA) empowers workers to refuse to perform unhealthy or unsafe work if they have reason to believe that the controls are inadequate.
The NUM would like to commend the Limpopo government with their quick response in dealing with COVID-19 positive cases at Marula mine, Dwalsrivivier and other mines in the province. The MEC of Health Phophi Ramathuba is hands-on and is doing a fantastic job.
The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 3, states “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” It does not state that these rights disappear when you go to work. Indeed, the right to favourable conditions of work is also mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Another United Nations document, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, provides that everyone should have the right to safe and healthy working conditions.
However, the most important references to the right to refuse unsafe work come from the International Labour Organization (ILO), a specialized United Nations agency dealing with international labour standards. The ILO has several Conventions and Recommendations that mention the right to refuse unsafe work. The most generally significant of these is Convention 155, the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981.
Convention 155 states (excerpts):
“Article 4 (1) Each Member shall, in the light of national conditions and practice, and in consultation with the most representative organisations of employers and workers, formulate, implement and periodically review a coherent national policy on occupational safety, occupational health and the working environment. (2) The aim of the policy shall be to prevent accidents and injury to health arising out of, linked with or occurring in the course of work, by minimising, so far as is reasonably practicable, the causes of hazards inherent in the working environment.
“Article 5 (e) the protection of workers and their representatives from disciplinary measures as a result of actions properly taken by them in conformity with the policy referred to in Article 4 of this Convention.
“Article 13. A worker who has removed himself from a work situation which he has reasonable justification to believe presents an imminent and serious danger to his life or health shall be protected from undue consequences in accordance with national conditions and practice.
“Article 19. There shall be arrangements at the level of the undertaking . . . (f ). a worker reports forthwith to his immediate supervisor any situation which he has reasonable justification to believe presents an imminent and serious danger to his life or health; until the employer has taken remedial action, if necessary, the employer cannot require workers to return to a work situation where there is continuing imminent and serious danger to life or health.”
In plain language, this says that within the context of national law, workers can, with reasonable justification, remove themselves from unsafe work and not return until the employer has remedied the situation, and if they have exercised this right in good faith they cannot suffer undue consequences.
The Coronavirus is a way more dangerous than just the flu and it is killing thousands of people around the world. Many countries have declared war on the virus including South Africa. The whole world is grappling with the coronavirus crisis. NUM members and other workers cannot be sacrificed for profits during the 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.
For more information, please contact:
David Sipunzi, NUM General Secretary, 082 883 7293
Livhuwani Mammburu, NUM National Spokesperson, 083 809 3257
7 Rissik Street.
Tel: 011 377 2111