Government sticks to its guns on Covid-19 mining safety guidelines


The state's decision to direct mining companies to gradually return to production is appropriate, the Labour Court heard on Wednesday in an application brought by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).

The union approached the court to force the minister of mineral resources to issue binding measures to ensure the protection of mineworkers against coronavirus.

Government earlier this month allowed mining houses to ramp up production to 50% of their capacity, part of the state's plan to introduce a phased return to economic activity. 

While a number of companies have issued notices to workers to return to resume work, AMCU raised concerns around the protection of workers against the coronavirus.

The union mounted an urgent court application to compel the department to enact "detailed, binding national standards that will ensure that all mining companies take the necessary steps to protect their employees from this pandemic."

Under the current framework, mining companies are required to conduct Covid-19 screening and testing of employees as they return to work. But the union believes that while some companies may stick to safety guidelines without state intervention, the measures offer a "patently insufficient guarantee" for the workers.

"The minister's decision is binding and a appropriate," said Advocate Mark Wesley, for the department, adding that the union rushed to court without showing evidence that employers were not providing adequate protection for workers.

Mining companies such as Impala Platinum, Sibanye-Stillwater and Harmony have began measures to ramp-up production under the guidelines guidelines announced by the minister.

But companies have also indicated that production guidelines for the year are likely to be impacted due to the effects of Covid-19, which saw many mines initially shut down or be placed under care and maintenance during the early stages of the lockdown.

AMCU argued that the chief inspector of mines must issue safety guidelines in terms of the Mine Health and Safety Act, which will require all employers to prepare codes of practice to fight the virus in the workplace.

The case was was adjourned until Thursday.

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