The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) says the mining industry has not implemented adequate measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
There are more than 230 000 miners currently back at work, with only 679 confirmed COVID-19 cases at various mines countrywide.
The Minerals Council of South Africa says the mining industry is not the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country and has taken issue with those who say the mining industry is an epicentre of COVID-19 in South Africa.
The Council says these assertions are not only inaccurate but serve to spread fear among mineworkers and communities in which they reside.
Saftu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi says the mining sector is not concerned over the safety of workers.
Vavi says, “Even ahead of anything else, this government sort of gave in to the pressure of the mining bosses and opened the mining industry beyond them being essential services. The mining industry has been one of the worst in terms of compliance. They didn’t have adequate measures, no social distancing, no PPEs, no sanitizers, no hygiene. There is a big rush to push production at all costs and that cost is the lives of mineworkers.”
Discussing Coronavirus in the mining sector
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has also called on the mining sector leaders to ensure that further measures are in place to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa says mine management needs to agree on measures to ensure social distancing among workers.
Mathunjwa says, “These mines must be compelled to set up their own labs. They have made a huge profit in the last financial year so they can set up their own labs. These mines are failing to comply with their own labour plans. There are a lot of things that are going to happen with this coronavirus if this government does not take drastic measures to see to it that these mines comply with the regulations.”
In May the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy published safety rules for mines operating during COVID-19 pandemic and said failure to implement them would be a criminal offence.
This as the country, which is the world’s largest producer of platinum and chrome ore and a major miner of gold, diamonds and coal, gradually started operations after a nationwide lockdown.
In April the government relaxed regulations to allow deep level mines to operate at 50% capacity.
The publication of the guidelines followed a court ruling requiring employers to implement a code of practice to manage and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The regulations require mine operators to supply protective equipment, screen all people entering a mine, provide quarantine facilities, identify those with pre-existing conditions and carry out routine disinfection.
The Department said, “This is to ensure that mine employees returning to work and any other persons at mines, are protected from transmission of the coronavirus at the workplace… whilst providing guidance to all stakeholders regarding their roles and responsibilities in the management of the virus.”
They also have to keep mineworkers between one and two metres apart.
In the video below, Tharisa Mine management is accused of not adhering to lockdown regulations: