Mines working to solve benefit issue

The Daily Dispatch recently published a series of articles regarding the issue of unclaimed benefits to which a large number of former mineworkers are entitled to and which they have not yet been paid.

The articles refer both to unpaid retirement fund benefits and to former goldminers who may have contracted silicosis.

Though we (like the industry’s retirement funds) were not asked to comment on the series of articles, I would, on behalf of the Chamber of Mines, like to provide the industry’s perspective on these issues and inform you of work that is being done to remedy them.

We recognise that it is unacceptable that so many former employees have not received retirement fund or compensation payments to which they are entitled.

In fact, it is a challenge that is not unique to the mining industry but affects other sectors of the economy too, including the public service.

The amount of R45-billion in unpaid retirement fund benefits is owed to three million people throughout all sectors of the economy.

Of these unpaid benefits, around R3.2-billion (7%) is owed to 332580 former mining industry employees.

The reasons for the benefits being unclaimed are varied and may be a legacy of poor record-keeping and information management by the mining industry.

Many former mining industry employees were not aware of what was due to them when they left the industry’s employ.

Many former employees do not have fixed addresses, or their addresses have changed after all these years.

Some of the former employees came to South Africa from neighbouring countries, and some used names during their employment other than their registered names.

However, we know these explanations are not a basis for doing nothing about ensuring that those entitled to these payments receive them.

The Chamber of Mines and its members are not in possession of the funds and do not have any legal authority over the funds. The formal responsibility to trace, track and pay unclaimed retirement benefits rests with the retirement funds themselves, of which there are four main ones in the mining sector and also some company-linked funds.

We have been working closely with them.

We were also instrumental, through our combined work with them and the Financial Services Board (FSB) in making it possible for the FSB to establish a very helpful website portal where any individual in any industry who believes that he or she have retirement fund benefits due to them can check whether this is so.

It can be found at:

https://www.fsb.co.za/Magic94Scripts/mgrqispi94.dll?APPNAME=Web&PRGNAME=
UB_Partial_Search.

In addition, the Chamber has recruited a fulltime staff member to assist the many former employees and their dependents who visit our offices seeking assistance with applying for unpaid benefits. She assists former employees to get in touch with the appropriate fund and helps in ensuring access to the required information.

The issue of compensation for former miners who have contracted silicosis is also critical.

The formal responsibility to trace, track and pay unpaid compensation rests with the Compensation Commissioner for Occupational Diseases at the Department of Health.

It is well-known that the state compensation fund, to which companies pay monthly premiums for compensation in respect of lung disease, has been poorly administered for many years and that people claiming compensation have had long waits to receive their compensation.

Since 2015 the Chamber, together with the Occupational Lung Disease Working Group comprising six of our members – African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American SA, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony and Sibanye Stillwater – have been working closely with the new Compensation Commissioner, Dr Barry Kistnasamy, who was brought in to fix the problems.

We have contributed tens of millions of rands, and seconded staff and offered various other forms of assistance, to fix the fund’s problems. Although there is a long way to go, the past 12 months have seen 7065 people paid their compensation, compared with 1305 for the whole of 2015.

As is also well-known, the working group has been in talks with lawyers representing claimants in the so-called class action silicosis case in efforts to reach an out-of-court settlement.

The six companies recently announced individually that they had made financial provisions for a settlement that would see the establishment of a legacy fund to pay people compensation over and above their statutory entitlements. Approximately R5-billion in total appears to have been provided for.

So the mining industry has been hard at work to remedy the inequities of the past, including these issues on which your articles have been focused.

 

Nikisi Lesufi is senior executive: health, environment and legacies at the Chamber of Mines

 

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