Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa s. Picture: REUTERS
Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa s. Picture: REUTERS

A legal challenge by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) to force the government to regulate the health and safety of employees returning to mines as SA grapples to contain Covid-19 will be heard urgently on April 29.

Amcu approached the labour court in Johannesburg for the matter to be urgently heard after the government amended lockdown regulations for the mining sector on April 16, allowing companies to resume half their operations.

For weeks, Amcu has argued that the health and safety of workers cannot be left to the systems set up by mining companies but has to be regulated to ensure every mine is held to the same standards.

These appeals have not gained traction in the mineral resources and energy department, prompting Amcu, which claims to have 250,000 active members of which 100,000 are mineworkers, to approach the court.

The respondents in the case brought by Amcu are the department of mineral resources & energy, the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs, the chief inspector of mines, and the Minerals Council SA.

The court ruled on Tuesday that, while the matter was set down for an urgent hearing on the April 29, the respondents could use the opportunity to argue that it was not an urgent matter.

The matter will be heard via the Zoom videoconferencing platform.

The minister of mineral resources and energy is opposing the application, and a response to this effect will be available when the minister files his answering affidavit in due course,” the department said.

Amcu argues that mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe and the chief inspector of mines David Msiza must exercise the powers granted to them under the Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA) to impose binding obligations on employers to address the health and safety of mineworkers in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Alternatively, Amcu would like the court to set aside the April 16 amended regulations that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs, made public.

“The regulations concerning mining that have been passed by the minister ... are woefully inadequate to ensure that mineworkers are protected from Covid-19,” Amcu argued on Tuesday.

“Amcu believes that this failure will jeopardise the health of a quarter of a million mineworkers, as well as their host communities,” it said, noting its arguments had the backing of four professors whose expertise lie in public health and occupational medicine.

The views of professors Jill Murray, Rajen Naidoo, David Rees and Rodney Ehrlich were contained in the lengthy application and annexures running to more than 320 pages.

seccombea@businesslive.co.za