AMCU: Mine safety has now become a human rights issue

2018-05-05 14:23
AMCU) says mine safety has become a human rights issue and that legislation should be strengthened. (iStock)

AMCU) says mine safety has become a human rights issue and that legislation should be strengthened. (iStock)

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The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) says mine safety has become a human rights issue and that legislation should be strengthened to hold mining bosses criminally accountable for failing to ensure safety at operations.

This follows after seven workers lost their lives after being trapped underground Sibanye-Stillwater’s Masakhane shaft on Thursday following two seismic events. Six other mine workers were hospitalised, and according to AMCU, four were in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and two others were critical.

READ: Sibanye-Stillwater death toll climbs to 7 as rescue operations wrap up

AMCU has demanded that Masakhane shaft remains closed until all investigations are finalised.

In a statement on Saturday, AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa, said the mining companies should also face civil claims when accidents such as the Sibanye-Stillwater incident happen.  

"It is simply ludicrous that the life of a mineworker is worth a mere 36 months of basic salary.  AMCU has proposed a system much similar to the Road Accident Fund (RAF), in order to compensate workers and their families when these tragic events occur," he said.

"The Union undertakes to heighten its campaign in ensuring that the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) ups its game in regulating mining in South Africa.  The Union will be meeting with Minister Gwede Mantashe to discuss the failures of DMR in this and other regards," said Mathunjwa.

READ MORE: Sibanye-Stillwater must prioritise safety - Mantashe

Management to blame

"AMCU wants to correct minister Mantashe who yesterday, during his meeting with unions and management, blamed the late Health and Safety Representative for not withdrawing the team after the first seismic event.  

"This is unfortunate as only management in the control room on the surface would have had access to seismic information.  

Mathunjwa said it was unfair to expect the steward, who was underground with the workers at the time, to know exactly what was going on.  

"The blame should therefore be placed squarely at the door of line management, as the miner and mining captain would have had the necessary information to pull the team to a place of safety after the first event," he said.

Fall of ground incidents a concern

The Chamber of Mines also extended their heartfelt sympathies to the families, friends and colleagues of the seven employees who lost their lives.

Chamber Spokesperson Charmaine Russell said fall of ground incidents, particularly at deep-level mines, was an area that the mining industry had focused intensive efforts on over the past several years.

"This focus is reflected in the more than R150m that the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) has invested in falls of ground research.

"Furthermore, through the MHSC, more than R250m has been spent on research into the seismicity associated with our deep-level mines."

Russel said the research outcomes and technology had led to new mine designs and methods, which had reduced the number of fatalities associated with seismicity from 48 in 2003 to 14 in 2017.

Russel said the industry had noted with concern the increase in the number of rock bursts related to seismic activity, while the number of rockfalls, which was typically the main cause of falls of ground, decreased.

"The industry remains committed to achieve the collective aim – between mining companies, unions and government – of zero harm, ensuring that that every single mining employee returns home safe and unharmed from work at the end of every day," Russel said.

AMCU to engage with department

Mathunjwa said AMCU was on record for criticising the DMR for failing in its role of regulating the mining industry.  

"We continue saying that DMR should ensure that the profit-hungry ventures of mining bosses should be duly balanced with the lives and wellness of human beings."

Mathunjwa said the union would engage with Mantashe on the issue of mine safety.  

"Every day our mine workers risk life and limb to put bread on the table for their families.  Mine safety has become a human rights issue, and the department must step up to the plate to protect the workers against the overt focus on profit over people.

"Once the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) has concluded its enquiry, AMCU will interrogate the reports and comment on the causes of, and solutions to the problems which led to this incident," he said.

Read more on:    amcu  |  department of mineral resources  |  mining

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