NUM raises mine safety debate

The local mining sector should focus more on safety and less on meeting targets in light of the Chile mining accident, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said on Wednesday.

“Sometimes our mining industry acts more like the taxi industry,” NUM president Senzani Zokwana told the media in Johannesburg.

“These mines are focused on more trips to get more money, which compromises the safety of others.”

Zokwana said mine owners should deal with providing a better basic wage for miners, rather than offering bonuses for productivity, which encouraged miners to take risks and potentially endanger lives.

“If you look at a company like AngloGold, my answer would be yes, they are not genuine in addressing their ‘zero fatalities’ policy as long as they offer bonuses as motivation,” Zokwana said.

He said South African mining comanies could learn many lessons from the Chile rescue operation.

“We can take this home to us and say, do our mines meet the requirements of the law in terms of safety?”

Zokwana said the country’s mining houses had the knowledge and skills to deal with deep mines, but what was lacking was the implementation of safety legislation.

“Without a strong inspectorate, workers would not be safe if owners alone were in charge of safety because they are focused on cost and profit,” he said.

NUM national secretary for health and safety Eric Gcilitshana said more initiative was needed from private companies to assist with mine accidents, and said Murray & Roberts had provided the drills for the Chilean rescue operation.

“People are asking why this company hasn’t helped with all our local accidents … but it’s because they didn’t open up about their capacity to help … until we saw it for ourselves on TV,” Gcilitshana said.

Regarding the nationalisation of mines, Zokwana said a debate free of insults was needed to decide how a state mining company would operate and what the role of private companies would be.

“We are calling for the activation of the state mining company… we cannot have a situation like we did with Eskom where we ran out of coal because global prices were too high,” he said.

Zokwana said there was a perception that calls for nationalisation were made by many “tenderpreneurs” who had run into trouble following the global financial crisis.

“Their calls are seen as a ploy to bail them out … they think they can sell their mine to the state to earn some money,” he said.

Regardless, a nationalisation debate was needed to examine how the interests of NUM’s members could be defended, particularly concerning their pensions, he said. – Sapa

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Jenna Etheridge
Jenna Etheridge
Journalist, writer and editor

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