Gupta mine is hell, say workers as they prepare to march

Johannesburg - Workers will march against poor working condition at the Gupta-family's Shiva Uranium mine in Klerksdorp on Thursday, claiming that they are being exploited.

Workers at the Shiva Uranium Mine have described labour conditions at the mine as "pure hell", as they embark on labour action. Workers, organised by political party EFF and Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) have organised a march against the mine on Thursday, for what they call the atrocious conditions workers have to face. 

At the heart of the issue is a dispute over the mine's labour brokers Quatrotec, who they say is being used to pay minimum wages for workers. Workers contracted under Quatrotec have been fired on the spot, without a hearing. 

A cleaner at the mine, who spoke on conditions of anonymity because he fears dismissal, told Fin24 that some workers who worked at the mine had been working part time for almost six years. He said he has not received an increase. 

"They take everything they can from us. And they pay us nothing," he said. 

He said mining union National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) had not been of great assistance, but that under Amcu and the EFF the workers had finally managed to organise themselves. 

Illegal August strike

Workers went on an illegal strike in August, claiming that their colleagues were unfairly dismissed at work. The strike ended when the mine obtained a court order declaring the strike unprotected. Workers were ordered to report back for duty or face dismissal.

Tomorrow's march is better prepared and legal, the cleaner said. 

Gupta-owned Oakbay Resources and Energy holds a 59% interest in Shiva Uranium, a mining and exploration company. The Gupta family bought Uranium One's mothballed uranium mine in 2010, using the Oakbay Resources and Energy as a vehicle and renamed it Shiva.

In June, Oakbay Resources and Energy reported a loss of close to R1bn, due to an R880m impairment recorded against the uranium mine. The loss was blamed on low uranium prices and reduced gold output.

Low wages

Money is tight at the mine, an insider told Fin24. He is not part of the aggrieved workers. Paying low wages was a strategy to boost its profitability. 

He explained that when unskilled workers are attributed to the mine's books, they are paid double than what workers are paid with Quatrotec.  

Commenting on the illegal August strike, Amcu shop steward Jan Busakwe said workers were not happy about the unfair dismissal of their colleagues.

He alleged that some of the workers have been working on a temporary contract with Quatrotec for six years, despite numerous requests to be employed on full time basis. Workers burned tires and blocked roads, before being ordered to go back to work. 

The spark to the strike in August was when off duty workers, of whom most were contracted to Quatrotec, were ordered to report for duty on a Sunday. When they did not respond, the workers were fired immediately.

One of the workers said they refused to work, because they had been promised overtime for Sunday work in the past, but that it has never materialised. 

Quatrotec declined to comment, merely saying that the Labour Court had granted Shiva Uranium an urgent interdict.

"We cannot comment on any of the questions raised by you as the matters is sub judice," said the firm's Isabel van Rensburg. She said the mines should comment on allegations of the poor working conditions. 

Workers were also upset about the treatment they receive from the human resources manager. The insider at the mine told Fin24 that the mine's human resources department kept all the artisan helpers and assistants on the Quatrotec labour brokers contract.

"That way he can pay minimum wages and keep people on as cheap labour," he said. "When workers moan, he makes promises that he will remedy the situation. But he never does. People are now gatvol."

Shiva Uranium  was also one of 20 Gupta-owned companies that on Friday sought an urgent interdict to prevent Indian-based Bank of Baroda from closing their bank accounts.

Mine CEO, George van der Merwe, did not respond to a messages left and Oakbay officials Fin24 contacted declined to comment.

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