Unions, mines clash over operations during lockdown

Mines are being allowed to re-opened by government.

‘Companies servicing critical export markets may have applied for exemptions on a case-by-case basis for limited operations,’ said Minerals Council SA spokesperson Charmaine Russell.

The country’s mining houses and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) are at loggerheads over concerns expressed by the union that some mining companies continued operating, despite President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaration of a 21-day lockdown as a measure to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

NUM president Joseph Montisetse has described it as “worrying and disturbing” that some mines operated on reduced staff, “showing they don’t care about the lives of their employees”.

“They care about profits, which cannot outweigh the lives of mineworkers. The decision to continue operating is barbaric, reckless, inhuman and irresponsible. As the NUM, we want to know who gave these mining companies the right to operate during the 21-day lockdown.

“It is clear that someone has given these companies the regulatory green light to operate during the lockdown,” said Montisetse.

NUM, said Montisetse, was also “extremely unhappy with some companies who have resorted to a no-work-no pay policy during the lockdown”.

In response to then NUM concerns, Minerals Council SA spokesperson Charmaine Russell confirmed that some mining companies were in operation, but were “supportive of measures announced by President Ramaphosa”.

“Companies servicing critical export markets may have applied for exemptions on a case-by-case basis for limited operations,” said Russell.

“Activities involved in internal essential services, including security, ventilation, cooling and pumping, refrigeration, tailings facilities and specialised maintenance, are continuing and so is the provision of water and other supplies to communities and services to staff residences.”

Meanwhile, some employers have responded to concerns that they made their workers go to work during the lockdown.

One of those is Kumba Iron Ore, which told The Citizen yesterday it kept its plant open at its Sishen mine because it had been granted approval by government to continue operations on a scaled-down basis.

The mine said the minister of minerals and energy’s pronouncement also allowed companies producing for export markets to be considered for exemption on a case-by-case basis.

“In line with South African government requirements, Kumba has started to implement all appropriate measures across its operations, with a focus on de-densification and scaling down to a 50% level of workforce.

“The department granted us the exemption, allowing us to continue mining with a reduced workforce,” said Kumba.

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