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Blyvoor Gold Mine management must be taken to task for violating the Labour Relations Act

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Luphert Chilwane is media officer for the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

What have workers at Blyvoor Gold Mine in Carletonville done to deserve such bad treatment from their employer?

There is a great deal of confusion among Blyvoor Gold Mine employees, with hundreds of mineworkers being dismissed on the basis of their constitutional rights to belong to a trade union of their choice.

Section 23 of Chapter 2 of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution deals with labour relations and states the following:

  1. Everyone has the right to fair labour practices.
  2. Every worker has the right —
  •  To form and join a trade union;
  •  To participate in the activities and programmes of a trade union…

The Labour Relations Act (Act 66 of 1995) also guarantees the right of an employee to participate in forming a trade union or union federation, to join a union (subject to its constitution), to participate in lawful union activities, to stand for election as an office-bearer, official or union representative, and to hold office if elected.

The act specifically mentions that no employer may:

  • Discriminate against an employee or person seeking employment for exercising any of these rights;
  • Prevent such a person from exercising these rights;
  • Prejudice such a person for exercising these rights; and
  • Give an advantage to such a person, or promise to give an advantage to such a person, in exchange for not exercising any of these rights or for not participating in any proceedings described in the act.

Employers may not impose, or threaten to impose, any of the following requirements on an employee or person seeking employment:

  • The employee may not be a member of a trade union or workplace forum;
  • The employee may not become a union or forum member; and
  • The employee must give up union or forum membership.

Any allegations of victimisation must be referred to the relevant bargaining or statutory council if one exists in that sector, or to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.

Seen in the light of the above-mentioned legislation, it is very clear that any employee may join any trade union of his or her choice without being prejudiced against or punished by an employer.

It is the right of every citizen in South Africa to belong to any trade union of his or her choice. A person may also belong to more than one trade union.

In the workplace, the right to freedom of association is essentially an “enabling” right that entitles workers to form and join workers’ organisations of their own choice to promote common organisational interests.

Last week, hundreds of Blyvoor Gold Mine former employees and community members walked about 10km in scorching heat in a protest march to deliver a memorandum to Blyvoor Shaft 5, demanding the company re-employ them.

Blyvoor Gold Mine management must be taken to task for violating the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995.

Instead of pushing forward with the struggle to transform and improve the socioeconomic conditions of communities where it mines, Blyvoor Gold Mine is obsessed with establishing “closed-shop agreements” that infringe on the workers’ right to freedom of association.

Since the beginning of this year, many workers at Blyvoor Gold Mine have been intimidated, assaulted and prevented from reporting to work.

Several calls have been made to investigate the behaviour and attitude of the Blyvoor management. Workers are deeply disgusted as they are being forced to join the Blyvoor Workers Union with the sole objective of continuously colonising, abusing and exploiting them. The government must intervene, it must visit the mine to hear the workers’ plight.

Workers are being victimised to a level of no return. What is most concerning is the deafening silence from the Department of Labour and Employment as the custodian of the Labour Relations Act.

The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy must reconsider the future operations of the Blyvoor Gold Mine. The department, as a mining regulator, must act without hesitancy by reviewing the company’s licence. If needs be, the department must take back the mining licence of this company for disregarding the laws of South Africa.

It is a fact that Blyvoor’s profits are built on the exploitation of a migrant black labour force which over decades saw its real wages decline.

This company was liquidated in 2012, but after the mining right was secured five years ago, it raised $65-million through a structured funding arrangement and began rebuilding the mine, using vulnerable local workers. Those workers are being paid only around R5,500 per month without benefits such as UIF and a living-out allowance.

Workers are not being provided with decent housing and transportation. There are also no health and safety structures in place at the mine. DM

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  • There will be another side to this story. Unions have been the major cause of job losses through unrealistic demands and irresponsible strike action in support of these. You try running a mine in SA and then realise why our mining sector has shrunk!! A job is better than no job and the assumption that mine bosses set out to exploit workers is just communist clap trap.

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