Gwede Mantashe. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
Gwede Mantashe. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

 The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) says it is taking mineral resources & energy minister Gwede Mantashe to court to compel him to ensure the safety and health of mineworkers as they return to the mines that employ them.

Last week Mantashe announced that mines in SA will restart production at half their capacity and gradually ramp up under strictly controlled conditions with the expectation of reaching full production late in May.

The amendments announced in terms of mining legislation loosened up some of the stringent regulations that were put in place from the beginning of the lockdown, which has been in place since late March.

A letter of demand from the union was sent to Mantashe on Thursday. In it, Amcu asked Mantashe to declare Covid-19 a health hazard in terms of the Mine Health and Safety Act and to announce measures that will ensure the health and safety of mineworkers. It also asked that the chief inspector of mines issue guidelines for Covid-19 and direct all employers to prepare and implement codes of practice in line with the guidelines.

Alternatively, the union asked  co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to make regulations, in consultation with Mantashe, to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

Richard Spoor, who is representing Amcu, said on Sunday that the union has not yet received an official response to its letter of demand. Though there was an attempt to set up a meeting on Friday between the government and the union, this was unsuccessful.

Spoor said the union was set to file and serve court papers on Monday on Mantashe and the chief inspector of mines to require them to put in place “appropriate and binding regulations that the mines should comply with to control the hazard associated with the Covid-19 pandemic”. 

He said some of the big issues that will have to be addressed include the screening and testing for Covid-19 at mines, the practice of social distancing, and what sort of protective gear is supplied to miners.

He said it was very difficult for the union to recommend to their members to return to work if they were not satisfied that adequate and binding guidelines were in place.

He emphasised that there were mining companies that had prepared comprehensive and adequate guidelines, but there were also many that had not done so. “It is those ones that are of a particular concern to us,” Spoor said.

He said Mantashe had done no more than say that mining companies “must do what they must do in terms of the act, but he provides no guidance whatsoever”. 

The department of mineral resources & energy said on Sunday it has filed its answering affidavit in the matter. The department said that health and safety in the industry was a primary consideration during the lockdown period and beyond, as guided by section 11 of the act, of which the department is tasked to ensure compliance.