The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has announced its plans to oppose the introduction of a national policy on mandatory Covid-19 vaccination at workplaces. This came after AMCU received news of Minister of Employment and Labour, Honourable Thulas Nxesi making this announcement at the 26th NEDLAC Summit held in Johannesburg today.
“We will not allow government and business to sit with their sweetheart unions and agree on things that will affect the total workforce of South Africa”, said AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa. “NEDLAC does not represent all workers, trade unions and even trade union federations in our country, so it cannot be seen as a legitimate forum for consultations on such deeply constitutional matters”, he said.
NEDLAC currently only represents three (3) trade union federations, namely the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) and National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU). No independent trade unions which do not belong to a federation are allowed to participate in NEDLAC’s activities, and even major trade union federations like the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) has been kept out of NEDLAC.
“It is not right when these federations representing mostly public sector workers, are allowed to decide for all the workers in our country”, said Mathunjwa. “Apart from independent unions like AMCU, there are millions and millions of non-unionised workers who also need to be consulted on such important matters. How can NEDLAC be superior to the Constitution [of South Africa], when this same constitution allows us the right to bodily integrity and religious freedom?” he asked.
Only around 23% of South African workers belong to a trade union. According to the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (Q3:2021), around 14,3 million South Africans are employed. This means that more than 3,3 million workers belong to a trade union. Around half of these workers are members of COSATU, which is politically aligned to the ruling party, and consisting of mostly public sector workers. Even FEDUSA, which used to be more private sector biased became mostly public sector focused after it was joined by the Public Servants Association (PSA) in 2016.
On 16 September 2021, AMCU wrote to all employers where it has a presence in South Africa, emphasising its position on vaccinations. In the letter, AMCU expressed its concern on “the effect of the Covid-19 coronavirus on lives and livelihoods of workers in South Africa and the rest of the world, and specifically the potential prejudice posed by the direct and indirect results of the pandemic”.
In the letter to employers, the Union accepted “that Covid-19 vaccines are protective against severe disease and the risk of death”, and supported “voluntary vaccination, particularly of older persons and persons with co-morbidities that place them at particular risk of severe disease or death” as proposed by the scientific fraternity. AMCU also confirmed that it “stands for respect, protection and fulfilment of the human rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom”, attributing vaccine hesitancy to issues like lacking opportunity, religious convictions and distrust in the authorities. The Union therefore held that the notion of vaccine mandates at the workplace would be problematic because it would constitute compulsion and encroach on employees’ constitutional right to bodily and psychological integrity and privacy.
It was AMCU that ensured that Covid-19 safety protocols at the mines became law in 2020, when it had to take the Department and Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and the Minerals Council to court to force them to agree on minimum standards to ensure the health and safety of mineworkers.
At the time, the DMRE facilitated that mining be declared an essential service which resulted in mammoth production records and profits made by the big mining houses. On 1 May 2020, the Labour Court set aside the decision of the DMRE not to issue a proper national standard to mines for managing the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of section 9 of the Mine Health and Safety Act, ordering the DMRE to do so in consultation with all stakeholders including AMCU’s medical experts.
“We will protect our constitutional rights up to the apex court in the country”, said Mathunjwa. “We will spare no resource to fight this undermining of our constitutional rights by a minority grouping which does not represent all workers”, Mathunjwa concluded.
For interviews: AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa