The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union president Joseph Mathunjwa lashed out at companies who put “profit before workers’ lives”.
“These mines will continue slaughtering the majority of black mineworkers as long as the legislation is not changed,” he said arguing that mining companies should be sued and their bosses prosecuted for work-related fatalities. According to Mathunjwa mining companies are protected by the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, which prevents registered employees from making common law claims against their employers.
Khomotso Makapane, a partner at law firm Bowman Gilfillan said Mathunjwa’s comments were somewhat misinformed and likely just a political statement. “He should know, from the laws and processes laid out in the Mine Health and Safety Act, that it is not an easy thing to accuse someone of murder without a proper investigation,” Makapane told Mineweb.
Mathunjwa’s comments were in response to an announcement that fatalities reported in the mining sector fell to their lowest level on record in 2015.
Citing apartheid era data, Zwane praised the democratic government and stakeholders for developing and implementing policies which have led to a downward trend in annual figures. “The figures reported by the industry were on average 800 fatalities and 12 000 injuries per annum over the two decades before 1994,” he said.
Annual fatalities reported by gold and coal mines improved by 25% and 44% respectively while the number of fatalities reported by platinum mines increased by 38% year-on-year. “The regression in platinum cannot be compared favourably because of the 5 months in 2014 when there was a lull in activity,” he said referring to the crippling platinum sector strike.
Zwane also dismissed an argument that declining employment rates would yield fewer fatalities. He said South Africa compares favourably with the likes of the United States and Canada, where fatality rates per million hours worked appear to be rising (see chart below).
The National Union of Mine Workers and Solidarity both welcomed the decline in fatalities but emphasised the need to achieve a zero harm environment.
Graham Briggs, CEO of Harmony Gold and vice-president of the Chamber of Mines said safety among mining companies is not negotiable and treated quite seriously.
54% of fatalities were recorded among large miners, who make up the Chamber of Mines are represented on the Mine Health and Safety Council. South African Mining Development Association Chair Peter Temane said that junior miners are not adequately represented on the council but would engage with the department of mineral resources to curb fatalities.
The minister said there is room to do better and ensure that “every worker should return home unharmed everyday”.