Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa. Picture: ARNOLD PRONTO
Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa. Picture: ARNOLD PRONTO

The three mining industry protagonists in the labour court are close to delivering an agreed standard operating procedures (SOPs) on the return of mineworkers document to the judge, bringing an end to the urgent case.

Judge André van Niekerk said that once he’d received the document he could deliver a judgment over the long weekend and send it to all parties, with his reasons following later.

He stressed the importance of a quick settlement as thousands of workers return to mines.

The parties were working on a consent order to present to Van Niekerk on Friday, showing the terms the three parties had agreed, forming the basis of the judgment.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) brought the case to compel the department of mineral resources and energy to regulate the health and safety conditions for tens of thousands of mineworkers returning to mines during the lockdown.

SA was put into a strict lockdown on March 27 for an initial three weeks, which was extended to the end of April. Lockdown conditions will ease from May 1 as the government opens more of the economy.

The mining industry was told on April 16 that it can return to 50% of capacity under the lockdown. Mining companies under the Minerals Council SA have the benefit of SOPs drawn up by the industry body.

Amcu, however, said this was unacceptable, leaving companies too much discretion as more than 200,000 mineworkers return to their jobs. It wants regulations and sanctions for companies violating those rules.

On the first day of the hearing, the court was told by Amcu’s lawyer Alan Dodson that the union and council had been in talks about the SOPs and were close to an agreement.

On Thursday, the second day, he said the department was included in the talks and a jointly agreed or largely agreed SOP  document could be submitted to the court, addressing Amcu’s main concern. “It would represent a partial resolution of this dispute,” Dodson said.

Mark Wesley, the department’s lawyer, said he is confident there will be resolution between the three parties on a single document on agreed SOPs for all mines to follow. He noted that the department’s approach to the matter before the court was that if it was found “wrong on the point of law, let’s put something in place urgently”.

A major point of dissent was Amcu’s insistence that the department and the chief inspector of mines pay its costs, which Dodson argued would be used to defray the expense the union incurred in securing expert input from five health professionals to back its arguments in court.

The department rejected this argument outright.

“The department should never be required to pay for the costs of those experts who were not necessary in the proceedings,” Wesley said.

“Amcu jumped into this litigation. They’ve looked to act unilaterally rather than collaboratively. They’ve not exhausted opportunities outside litigation, but instead thrown themselves into it at the first opportunity, with vigour,” he said, pointing out that the union was part of the Mine Health and Safety Council and could have raised issues there.

The simmering tensions between the department and Amcu, which noted how departmental officials repeatedly ignored its letters, inputs and requests for meetings, were in clear evidence during the brief appearance at Thursday’s proceedings.

seccombea@businesslive.co.za