The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) is ready for its appearance in the Labour Court tomorrow. This urgent application involves forcing the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) to set minimum standards for health and safety during the scourge of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. While there is a high level of agreement between AMCU and the employers’ organisation, the Minerals Council, regarding the setting of national minimum standards, the DMRE and Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) has opposed AMCU’s application.
AMCU will be in the Labour Court tomorrow, 29 April 2020 to argue for an order to compel the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Honourable Gwede Mantashe to issue binding regulations to protect mineworkers from Covid-19. This, as mining bosses were given the green light to ramp up to 50% of production during Phase 5 of the national lockdown, with even more set to return after 1 May 2020 when Level 4 commences.
While has consistently declared its support for the mines ramping up production, this can only take place once national minimum standards are put in place to ensure the health and safety of workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Before approaching court, AMCU wrote numerous letters to the DMRE, pleading with the Minister to set health and safety standards for mineworkers, who are uniquely vulnerable to Covid-19. This vulnerability includes the peculiar risks posed by highly congested working areas with low levels of natural ventilation, coupled with the high levels of predisposition caused by silicosis and tuberculosis. AMCU fears this will lead to widespread infection amongst mineworkers as well as the vulnerable communities that host them. However, the Minister has ignored all AMCU’s pleas and proposals thus far, and therefore AMCU was forced to approach the court.
The current urgent application to the Labour Court was brought last week, and subsequently Judge Tlhotlhalemaje J ordered AMCU and the respondents to publish a notice for interested parties to join the court action, on their respective websites. This included the publishing of the notion of motion, founding affidavit in the name of AMCU General Secretary Jeff Mphahlele, as well as the various relevant annexures. [These documents can be viewed at www.amcu.co.za.]
Since that time, it became clear that some mining companies as well as the Minerals Council was interested in settlement, and a settlement offer was made to AMCU. AMCU engaged constructively and proposed certain amendments to the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) proposed by the Minerals Council. These amendments were largely informed by AMCU’s panel of experts, namely Professors Rodney Ehrlich (UCT), Jill Murray (Wits), Rajen Naidoo (UKZN), Pam Sonnenberg (University College London), and David Rees (National Institute of Health), who were of the opinion that the SOP as it stands, lacks specificity. This related to factors such as the issuing of the correct standard of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the maintenance of proper social distancing measures including underground situations such as congested lift cages, as well as the supply of proper hand sanitiser at specific points in the workplace.
Only the DMRE and COGTA oppose the relief sought by AMCU, with the DMRE arguing that the current regulations are sufficient to protect mineworkers. These departments hold the view that individual mining companies should be allowed to regulate themselves.
“As AMCU, we want our State to take up its role as regulator,” said AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa. “They must be impartial and look after the interests of workers as well. They cannot be player and referee at the same time,” Mathunjwa added.
The court case is set down for tomorrow at 10:00 via the Zoom remote meeting application, and AMCU will be represented by Adv Alan Dodson SC, Adv Michael Bishops and instructing attorneys Richard Spoor Incorporated.
“We remain positive that the judge will see the sense of our application, as well as the good faith in which it is brought. Mineworkers cannot be sent to the slaughterhouse so that mining bosses can ensure their profits and bonuses,” said Mathunjwa. “We need to know that workers are safe before they return to work and go underground,” Mathunjwa concluded.