The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has come out calling for universal testing of all mineworkers following the rapid spread of the virus in the mining sector. The Union is adamant that this is the only way to curb a possible crisis in the sector.
Over the past weekend it came to light that a record number of 19 new infections have been found at Impala’s Marula mine in Limpopo. This brings the total number of infections in mining to 32, with one (1) mineworker who has died of the pandemic as at 17 May 2020.
“We have consistently called for proper testing before mineworkers go underground,” said AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa. “Screening is not sufficient as it fails to detect those workers who don’t display the known symptoms like high temperature. We’ve been saying this all along, but the DMRE [Department of Mineral Resources] and the Chamber of Mines [now known as the Minerals Council] would not listen to us,” Mathunjwa added.
On 1 May 2020, AMCU won the case against the DMRE who failed to issue proper national minimum standards to mines for managing the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of section 9 of the Mine Health and Safety Act. Judge Van Niekerk from the Labour Court also ordered the DMRE and all employers to implement a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) until 18 May 2020, by which time the national Code of Practice (COP) must be finalised and gazetted.
“Already during the court process and negotiating of the SOP, we came forward calling for testing of all mineworkers, but the other parties did not even want to consider random testing,” said Mathunjwa. “They would not listen to the opinions of five medical experts enlisted by AMCU,” he said.
AMCU’s court papers included the expert opinions of five medical experts who assisted AMCU with its application, namely Professors Rodney Ehrlich (UCT), Jill Murray (Wits), Rajen Naidoo (UKZN), Pam Sonnenberg (University College London), and David Rees (National Institute of Health).
One of AMCU’s main concerns was that it would be futile to only test workers who fail screening, as this would mean that they would have to display symptoms first. It is common knowledge that some cases of Covid-19 are asymptomatic, and recent studies have actually shown that these cases are more prevalent than previously thought.
“We said all along that AMCU is not opposed to the mines opening, but that we only want to ensure the safety of workers first,” said Mathunjwa. “What is the use of prematurely opening your mine only to be forced to close it down when there is an explosion of infection?” he asked. “We now demand that each and every worker must be tested for Covid-19 before he or she is allowed to go underground,” said Mathunjwa. “All those workers who are already back at work, must be tested immediately before they go back to work. This will be the true test of whether these companies put profit before people,” Mathunjwa.
“We must not cut corners now,” said Mathunjwa. “The only way to ensure the safety of mineworkers as well as the sustainability of the industry, is to upscale to universal testing. All mineworkers must be tested, and this must happen as soon as possible. If we fail to do this, we will face a crisis of epic proportions,” Mathunjwa concluded.