Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union president Joseph Mathunjwa. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union president Joseph Mathunjwa. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) sent a clear message to mining companies wanting to restart operations during SA’s national lockdown: no.

Ahead of talks with mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe and other unions, Amcu drew a clear line in opposing the piecemeal return to work at some mines and plants with reduced workforces.

Amcu joined calls by the National Union of Mineworkers for mines to remain closed in line with the national directive outlined by President Cyril Ramaphosa for non-essential industries to shut down and send employees home to stem the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in SA.

“The union accuses the DMRE [department of mineral resources & energy and energy] of deviating from the national lockdown measures announced by the state president, as well as of lacking consultation with trade unions and other stakeholders,” said Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa.

Mantashe and his department have allowed limited mining and processing to continue, particularly at opencast mines, furnaces and refineries. He said on Friday there were customers needing minerals and this was taken into account when allowing the continuation of iron ore, manganese, chrome, coal and platinum group metal production.

Labour-intensive underground mines have shut, but work has continued at pits where safe distances between miners can be kept and the health of employees more closely monitored among workforces no bigger than half the normal contingents.

“We are equally concerned about the job security of workers and the state of the South African economy at large. However, these concerns must never be addressed at the expense of the health and safety of workers,” Mathunjwa said.

On Wednesday, Mantashe is due to meet the Minerals Council SA, whose members represent 90% of SA’s mineral production.

The council sent a message to its members on Friday noting that it was critical for mining to resume at the end of the 21-day lockdown period on April 16 and that the cost and production implications for companies was already severe.

It estimated that production for April would fall by 20% and for 4.5% for the full year assuming the lockdown was not extended. This did not include the costs of putting mines into care and maintenance and the R7bn wage bill for the 21 days.

“It is becoming clear that the DMRE is under severe pressure from the Minerals Council to start with a premature ramp-up of operations under the guise of the essential services exemption,” Mathunjwa said.

Anglo American said on Monday it was spending R2.35bn weekly in SA on wages as securing goods and services for its mines to contribute to keeping economic activity going. A number of its mines were in limited operation, supplying coal and iron ore to offshore markets.

seccombea@businesslive.co.za