Union stages underground sit-in at Village Main Reef's Kopanang mine over pensions

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Two workers in an underground mine.
Two workers in an underground mine.
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Members of the National Union of Mineworkers have taken their fight over pensions payments to gold producer Village Main Reef through an underground sit-in at the company's Kopanang Mine in the North West Province.

On Tuesday, an unverified number of workers started an underground sit-in at the mine.

The union released a statement on Wednesday saying that the company had stopped paying pension contributions to the Mineworkers Provident Fund (MPF) despite the company making the usual deductions from workers' salaries. The MPF is a pension and provident fund for mineworkers. 

NUM President, Joseph Montisetse, told Fin24 on Wednesday that  workers had told the union that contributions had not been paid to the fund, and that workers that had left the company though incapacity or retrenchments had not been paid their dues.

"There have not been any engagements yet and there are no changes. We are going to meet with the CEO this afternoon and we don't know what will be offered. But we will take it from there. The allegation of armed response is something I cannot verify myself, but have heard," said Montisetse.

This comes after a statement from the union claimed that VMR was targeting the union's shop stewards at the company and that VMR sent armed guards to confront striking workers, which Fin24 could not independently confirm. 

Village Main Reef lawyer Nick Veltman said on Wednesday that the company did right by its employees with regards to the pension funds and deductions. He said the sit-in demonstration was still continuing underground on Wednesday afternoon.

"At the moment the employees have staged a sit in at the Kopanang shaft related to their demands. The SAPS are present and officials from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy as well as our client are engaging with the unions including the NUM," said Vultman.

Village Main Reef is owned by Heaven Sent Gold SA, which, in addition to Kopanang also runs the Tau Lekoa gold mine. It is a subsidiary of the Hong Kong-based Heaven-Sent Gold Group, which falls under the Heaven Sent Capital Management Group based in mainland China.

In late October, Fin24 reported that Heaven Sent Gold SA's suspended chief financial officer Phillip Spencer took the mining group to court, alleging that he was sidelined and victimised for sending a protected disclosure laying out fears of irregular spending and suspicious contracts.  Its CEO, Xia Dong, has denied that Spencer's suspension is linked to whistleblowing.

The case was heard briefly in Johannesburg Labour Court before it was sent to dispute resolution body the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration for a hearing. 

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