Mines in Aids test dispute

The mining industry’s fledgling Aids agreement has struck its first rock. In dispute is whether the agreement bars pre-employment testing.

This week the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) alleged that new recruits at two mines who had already been given contracts of employment were dismissed after testing HIV positive.

The Chamber of Mines says the industry-wide agreement does not preclude pre-employment testing, while employers say no tests were carried out on miners already in their employ.

“Our understanding is that the agreement covers new recruits. There should be no reason why HIV-positive workers should be not be employed,” said Sazi Jonas, the NUM’s health and safety co-ordinator this week.

He alleged six new workers had been dismissed at Randfontein Estates mine and 11 miners refused re-employment at Beatrix mine in contravention of the agreement. This agreement says there will be no Aids test without the consent of employees and that there will be no discrimination against miners found to be HIV positive.

Miners at Beatrix were compelled to re-apply for jobs after hundreds of them had left the mine which was dogged by faction fighting last year. Jonas also points out that many retrenched miners eligible for re-employment could be affected by the chamber’s interpretation of the agreement.

A letter in the Mail & Guardian‘s possession from Beatrix management concerning one of the rejected miners states: ‘ When considered for re- employment, the employee acknowledged in an undertaking that certain pre-employment conditions, including HIV testing, will be required before employment can be offered. He was rejected on medical grounds.”

A Gengold representative said the company did not dismiss existing staff who were HIV positive but said that all new recruits had to go through routine medical tests which included an Aids test. If they were turned down after the tests, the medical reasons were not usually disclosed.

The union is demanding the reinstatement of the workers, but this will be difficult to accede to because all but two of the workers have returned to their rural homes. Signed in May last year, the agreement is the country’s first industry-wide Aids agreement and took at least two years to negotiate and draft.

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