Amcu wants 'detailed, binding' standards to ensure safety of miners

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa. His union has approached the labour court to force the department of mineral resources and energy to set minimum standards for health and safety during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa. His union has approached the labour court to force the department of mineral resources and energy to set minimum standards for health and safety during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Image: Puxley Makgatho

Lawyers representing the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) have argued that if miners return to work, there should be “binding” national standards under which they operate, set by government.

Amcu has approached the labour court to force the department of mineral resources & energy to set minimum standards for health and safety during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The application follows a decision by government to allow mines to operate at 50% capacity during the lockdown.

Alan Dodson SC for Amcu argued that miners and the communities they live in were more at risk of contracting Covid-19 because of the conditions in which they work.

“The conditions in which they work and their underlying conditions (caused largely by mining) place them at higher risk of contracting Covid-19, and of becoming seriously ill or dying if they do.

“And if mineworkers become ill, they will spread the disease to their communities and beyond,” Dodson argued.

He said a medical report compiled by a team of medical experts indicated that it was highly unlikely that there would not be deaths when miners returned to work.

“The process of returning to work will likely lead to death. The matter is profoundly urgent,” Dodson argued.

Miners, according to Dodson, are more susceptible to contracting Covid-19 as they operate in confined spaces where social distancing is difficult or impossible.

“Whether in moving between entrances or exits to different parts of a mine, in underground cages, in transport to and from mines, or in mine dormitories, it is impossible for mineworkers to avoid contact with others who may be infected,” said Dodson.

“Mineworkers are widely affected by lung diseases, including the hidden pandemics of pulmonary tuberculosis and pneumoconiosis. HIV/Aids is also more prevalent among mineworkers than in the general population.

“Both these facts render mineworkers particularly vulnerable to serious illness or death from Covid-19.”

The vulnerability of the miners, Dodson argued, created a need for protective equipment the moment a person moved into a situation where there was either congregation of people or a risk of virus present on surfaces, and sanitation whenever a person entered or left the workplace or a congested area.

The state, Dodson argued, therefore needed to urgently enact “detailed, binding” national standards that would ensure that all mining companies took the necessary steps to protect their employees from the pandemic.

Dodson contended that while co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had decided that mines could resume operations, she did not put in place “effective” measures to protect mineworkers from contracting Covid-19 when they returned to work.

Amcu says the chief inspector of mining should issue guidelines in terms of Section 9 of the Mine Health and Safety Act that will require all employers to prepare codes of practice to fight Covid-19. Moreover, the Minerals Council’s existing standard operating procedures must be made binding on employers in the interim.

“This is a constitutional matter. We are dealing with a case that deals with fundamental rights,” Dodson argued.


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