Bringing justice to ex-mineworkers in Africa

Tamsin Oxford

The Southern Africa Trust opens international dialogue to resolve the R5.7-billion in unclaimed benefits for migrant workers.

Rantso Mantsi making a point during the conference. (Supplied)

The issue of unclaimed benefits for migrant mine workers was the topic of a two-day regional dialogue that brought together former mine workers, government representatives, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), The Employment Bureau of Africa (Teba) and other notable stakeholders. The challenges faced by the mineworkers, their wives and their dependents were examined alongside those experienced by the organisations involved.

Throughout the event, leaders discussed the portability of social security benefits and cross-border arrangements, the mechanisms needed to assist former migrant workers in accessing their benefits and developed key recommendations that are to be used to resolve the issues and bring about positive change. Through impassioned speeches and intense discussions, the challenges were soon clear.

Migrant mine workers were not receiving their benefits because they were either unaware that the funds were available to them or they were unable to gain access due to incorrect paperwork, language barriers and distance. Some had passed away, some did not use the same names as they had when they worked in the mines and their dependents could not prove that they were in line to benefit from these funds, and others were too ill to undertake the costly and labour-intensive process towards accessing their funds.

Education, collaboration, effective communication, standardisation and capacity building were the primary pillars that emerged as a result of the event and in each category solutions were devised to address these issues and to help take the money out of the funds and put it into the hands of those who needed it the most.

Accessing benefits

“Former mine workers need access to their benefits and we must remember those who are still working in the mines today, there is a need for us to collaborate and to accept that this is an issue not just for the governments, but one that we need to collectively resolve,” said Bhekinkosi Moyo, deputy executive director for social capital at the Southern Africa Trust (SAT). “The Southern Africa Trust has been set up to create platforms to help those in poverty and get their voices heard.

“We do not just want to contribute to poverty eradication, but we also want to find tools to resolve it, and here we are looking to find ways of unlocking the funds for these former mineworkers through discussions such as these and the study we recently commissioned called ‘The Portability of Social Security Benefits in Mining Sector’.”

The report, created by Dr George Mpedi and Professor Mathias Nyenti in conjunction with SAT examined the challenges experienced by former mineworkers in accessing social security benefits in selected southern African countries. It offered up some extraordinary statistics and figures.

The Mineworkers Provident Fund had more than R3-billion unclaimed as of December 2013, the Rand Mutual Assurance Company Limited had more than R180-million in outstanding claims and the total across all organisations, including Living Hands Umbrella Trust, Mines 1970s Pension and Provident Funds, Sentinel Mining Industry Retirement Fund, Compensation Commissioner for Occupational Diseases and the Compensation Fund, was estimated to be more than R5.7-billion.

It outlined the predominant obstacles that were preventing former mineworkers from neighbouring countries, or their dependents, from accessing South African social security benefits. The list is exhaustive.

There is the lack of information from migrants or dependents to assess and access their rights, a lack of information on the procedures and administrative formalities and the impact of South African immigration law with either limited or no portability provisions for the movement of funds.

Also, the lack of administrative co-operation between institutions, cumbersome document requirements, difficulties in determining how benefits are computed, differences in national banking systems and restrictions on the links between illness and employment were highlighted. In addition, there are issues on tracing migrant mine workers from countries such as Swaziland, Lesotho or Mozambique who may have worked under different identities and who may have moved, died or disappeared. Locating the beneficiaries of these funds demands a concerted effort by all parties as those who have earned them often live in abject poverty and cannot receive the healthcare or funds they deserve.

Finding solutions

Rantso Mantsi, president of the Southern Africa Miners Association (Sama), said, “We need to find a methodology, a way of bringing together the gaps between the ministries and organisations that are dealing with these issues. “Partnerships are essential for us to succeed in this endeavour or we are facing failure. It is time to reflect on critical fronts, to address these past injustices and to develop a comprehensive approach to address the plight of miners.”

The report inspired plenty of debate and discussion and, for many of the ex-mine workers present, opened old wounds. While there were stories of injustice, corruption and suffering, the overarching mood was one of forgiveness and that now was the time to stop blame, but rather to look at ways in which these challenges and issues can be resolved. In the panel discussion about the plight of former migrant workers, which included Nomathemba Lydia Hlope, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Swaziland, Baptista Machaieie, Director General at the Ministry of Labour, Mozambique, and Cleopas Sibanda, operational specialist for the Ministry of Social Security in Swaziland, many of the issues about cross-border portability were raised and these were further engaged on the second day of the event by Christabel Phiri, programme manager for social capital at SAT and Professor Mathias Nyenti. “It is vital that we look to reaffirming governmental commitment to this cause and examine cross border issues and legislation,” said Nyenti.

“The SADC agenda of integration is key. As people move across countries, we need to ensure that there is cross portability to facilitate and disperse social security benefits. “In our discussions with SADC they said that they are working towards a solution that will monitor this and that they are developing a tool on social security that will be ready by about 2015.”

The obstacles surrounding cross-border portability are richly complex because concerns about unemployment, illegal workers, social security benefits and bilateral agreements are not as simple as they may seem on the surface. While the debate about the influence of SADC — a tool with limited power that cannot infringe the sovereignty of member nations – and the relations between the various nations and South Africa was heated, the overarching message was that all countries need to find ways in which they can commit to the process of supporting ex-mine workers and giving them pathways to accessing their money.

“We need to look at where the former mine worker fits in and to create avenues for the SADC national committees to communicate with each other and the people they represent,” said Phiri. “And these agreements need to be unpacked in a way that allows both miners and migrant workers the ability to understand their rights and what these agreements mean for them.”

The Charter of Fundamental Social Rights and the code on social security benefits have been adopted by SADC. This is a legally binding document that promotes the establishment and harmonisation of social security schemes and, in Article 10, aims to provide adequate social protection and, regardless of status and type of employment, adequate social security benefits.

The key recommendations to come out of the discussions about cross-border portability were: a commitment by all governments to finding a way through the issues to support their people, for all organisations involved in the drive to helping former mineworkers to engage proactively with governments and to ultimately create cross-border arrangements that are operational and practical. “I think there has already been positive change and this is reflected in a willingness on the part of governments to solve the problem. “For Swaziland and South Africa, both governments have accepted that there is a problem and both want to take a lead in resolving this,” said Sibanda.

“This has resulted in the creation of committees led by technocrats of both countries with seven to eight ministries from South Africa and Swaziland involved, which is concerned with not just ex-mine workers, but with migrant workers in general.” The conference was not merely a forum for participants to talk about the challenges, threats and issues about the plight of former mineworkers, it was designed to actively guide them towards finding sustainable and actionable solutions that could be taken forward into the future.

Recommendations

Several sessions were set aside for ideas to be developed and examined with the first session asking attendees to break away into groups and draft solutions on how to fast track the disbursement of funds. The result was that tangible ideas were presented to all by representatives of each group. The recommendations were met with some cynicism and criticism, but overall managed to create a forum for a select group of leaders to sit down and expand on these ideas and develop a roadmap going forward. And it is this roadmap that shows the value of this event as it examined both the long and short term goals and looked to ways in which SAT and other organisations can make an active difference in resolving the issues for the migrant mineworkers.

The first recommendation was to create a sub-committee comprised of government representatives, the Funds, mineworkers, international co-operatives, the Chamber of Mines, Teba, Sama and other stakeholders. The goal of this new association would be to collaborate with existing platforms such as CoMSA and the regional partnership forum on migration and health, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), to manage the flow of information and ensure effective collaboration.

This multi-stakeholder platform would be co-ordinated by SAT and develop terms of reference and classify how information should flow through to the relevant parties. “The goal would be to choose the information needed by both current and former mineworkers so they can understand their funds, health matters, death benefits and more,” said Moyo. “We need to educate them and use all communication mediums available to help them understand their rights. This would include workshops, flyers and documentation in the relevant languages.” In addition, the recommendation was to develop strategies that can be used to reach rural communities through educating and informing traditional leaders, former miners and civic organisations.

The role of media — television, print and radio — was emphasised as many felt that the more the message was broadcast, the more likely it would be heard by the right people. Madula Mananye, principle officer of Sentinel Retirement Fund said, “I would like to take the recommendations that flow from the discussions to another forum that already exists and let us use that forum to advance them. “This forum is between Mineworkers Provident Fund, Sentinel Retirement Fund, Chamber of Mines, Anglo-American Platinum (Amplats), the 1970s Pension Fund and the National Union of Mine Workers (NUM). We need to examine how we can use a co-ordinated effort to do so much more, such as a database that we can all access, to see if we can find all those people.”

The next key recommendation was to explore the idea that the various financial schemes introduce standardised forms and documents. This would make it far easier for organisations involved in this endeavour to educate former mine workers on how to apply for their benefits and understand what those benefits actually are in relation to their health, families and lives. This could be further promoted through the use of collaborative road shows by the various funds to try and reach outlying communities and spread the word to ex-miners who have yet to be located. What also stood out was the need to strengthen relationships and improve communication not only with governments and Funds, but also with other organisations such as the IOM and the International Labour Organisation.

This would allow for more effective communication across the board and build capacity, which was another of the key issues outlined throughout the conference. “We need to focus on strengthening the roles of bodies such as Sama and empower people with knowledge, skills and tools so they know their rights and obligations,” says Moyo. “Language is still a huge barrier and miners lack formal education and in overcoming these obstacles Funds, governments and unions play a vital role.”

Change for the better

Ultimately stakeholders agreed that there was a need to collaborate in the development of regional frameworks, build strong relations with government and civil society to advocate common interest and to create cross-border portability mechanisms across all migrant countries. “We need to find innovative ways of connecting people to their money and to find solutions that are based on the reality faced by mineworkers after they have left the industry,” said Dr Thuthula Balfour-Kaipa, head of the health department at the Chamber of Mines. Walking out of the doors on the last day may not have seen many of the trapped funds dispersed to ex-mineworkers living lives of abject poverty, but it did inspire the development of robust, tangible and viable solutions that will be taken forward to bring about real change.

For SAT, this is just one step towards their ultimate goal of eradicating poverty and giving hope where it is needed the most. Moyo concludes, “The steps we take here and the solutions we find, the laws that are changed and the challenges that are met, these are not exclusively for the benefit of the ex-mine worker alone. “We can take these and we can use them to address similar issues facing migrant workers across other disciplines and areas, such as agriculture.

It may be a long journey today, but one day this will no longer be seen as a problem and we will have played a role in changing things for the better.”

This article is the final part of a series on the portability of benefits developed in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust.

This article was sourced independently by the M&G supplements editorial team.

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