Business Maverick

Business Maverick

Labour Court orders DMRE to gazette Covid-19 guidelines for the mining industry

President of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union Joseph Mathunjwa addresses members in Rustenburg in January 2019. (Photo: Thapelo Morebudi / Sunday Times)

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) won a major victory on Friday, 1 May - Workers Day no less - when the Labour Court ordered that the Chief Inspector of Mines must by 18 May gazette minimum guidelines for mining companies on managing the Covid-19 pandemic under the terms of the Mine Health and Safety Act. 

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) victory does not throw a spanner into the mining sector’s ongoing reboot to 50% of production capacity. An interim Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) has been agreed in the meantime which provides for minimum standards until the formal gazetting by 18 May. 

 “Violations of these standards once in place will be a criminal offence. In the meantime we have reached an agreement with the Minerals Council for minimum binding standards,” Johan Lorenzen, a lawyer with Richard Spoor Attorneys which represented Amcu in the proceedings, told Business Maverick

  

The Minerals Council South Africa, the industry’s umbrella group, said in a statement that:

 “In the interim, the Minerals Council is comfortable with the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that will be the basis of regulation until 18 May, noting that it is based on the SOP developed by the Minerals Council for its members since the emergence of COVID-19.” 

Amcu said that the SOP was a “substantial improvement.” 

“The overriding difference is that the document is now a binding standard. For the first time in history, there is a compulsion on mines to train mineworkers on how to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE),” the union said in a statement.

“There are specific provisions regarding the quality of face masks to be issued, as well as social distancing in underground working places. The issue of hygiene also receives broad attention, with provision for hand sanitiser not only at entrances, but also at exits. It obliges employers to clean and sanitise surfaces, and screening is now required on a daily basis,” it said.

Among other things, the ruling requires the DMRE to consult with all stakeholders, including Amcu’s medical experts. 

So the ruling does get Amcu’s buy-in to the resumption and/or ramp-up of the industry provided it agrees with the standards that are ultimately finalised. This is clearly crucial for the process.

Meanwhile, the Minerals Council has signalled that the industry is unlikely to get to 50% capacity anytime soon anyway. The sector accounts for about 8% of GDP and is a key earner of foreign currency, and any contribution to the economy at the moment is vital. But restarting mines under the new protocols takes time. There is a lot more at work here than the flick of a switch. BM

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