Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa. Picture: SOWETAN
Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa. Picture: SOWETAN

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) scored a court victory to force the regulator and industry to tighten measures around the safety of staff returning to work from lockdown.

Amcu, which represents 100,000 out of 450,000 people employed on SA’s mines, took the department of mineral resources & energy and the chief inspector of mining to the labour court in Johannesburg to force tighter regulations governing health and safety for returning workers.

The government on April 16 allowed SA’s mines to return to 50% of capacity under lockdown conditions that were implemented from March 27. Amcu quickly approached the court to argue the rules governing the return to work and safety protocols were inadequate, demanding a more comprehensive set of standards that would apply to the entire industry equally.

On Friday, judge André van Niekerk ruled that decisions by chief inspector of mining David Msiza made so far around the codes of practice be set aside and a new set of gazetted codes of practice in terms of the Mine Health and Safety Act. His ruling was to be gazetted within five days of it being passed down.

Msiza was ordered to gazette a notice no later than May 18 to give fresh guidelines in terms of the act and to require employers to “prepare and implement a code or codes of practice to mitigate the effect of the outbreak of Covid-19 on the health and safety of employees and persons who may be directly affected by the disease at the mine.”

He must publish guidelines for public comment by May 11 after broad consultations.

“The order resolves the existing uncertainty as to whether the minister of mineral resources & energy and chief inspector of mines are empowered under the Mine Health and Safety Act to introduce enforceable measures to deal with the outbreak of Covid-19 at mines,” the department said in response to the ruling.

Msiza was required to meet representatives of labour and employers in the form of the Minerals Council SA, who make up the Mine Health and Safety Council, and to tap into advice from experts including the five Amcu officials consulted and whose opinions formed a big part of the union’s application.

He was expected to consult with other labour organisations and communities in the form of Mining Affected Communities United in Action, which joined the court proceedings, and others.

Legal representatives of Amcu, the department and the Minerals Council told the judge on Thursday the parties were drawing up a mutually agreed set of codes of practice and would deliver these to the judge to include in his ruling.

These standard operating procedures were set down by Van Niekerk as the blueprint for mining companies to adhere to until the new framework was gazetted.

“The interim standard operating procedure in itself is a substantial improvement on the regulations and directives issued earlier. The overriding difference is that the document is now a binding standard,” said Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa.

There were seven pages of instructions for mining companies to adhere to in the return of mineworkers to shafts, how to screen, test and curtail the spread of the virus in the workplace.

These included pre-screening employees at collection points in rural areas, the safe mass transport of workers and how they should be screened and, if necessary, tested and isolated once back on the job.

seccombea@businesslive.co.za