Trade union federation Cosatu and its affiliate the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) picketed in front of the Chamber of Mines on Thursday, demanding action against what they say are deteriorating mine safety standards in the country.
This picket comes after the death of seven mineworkers last week at the Sibanye-Stillwater gold-mine near Carletonville, Gauteng. Thirteen miners were trapped after a rockfall reportedly caused by a seismic event on Thursday. Six are still being treated in hospital.
“If safety measures had been implemented, this incident would not have happened,” said NUM president Thamsanqa Piet Matosa. “We believe Sibanye could have done more. We are here to remind the Chamber of Mines to ensure that mining companies observe the law. Miners have the right to be safe.”
The trade union said they will ensure that a full investigation is carried out.
Speaking about Sibanye’s treatment of workers, Matosa said: “These people [the employers] are into profits. They have no respect for workers. Some have never been underground to see the conditions of work. It is neglectful to send people who are not properly trained underground just to make profits.”
“Since January, 33 mineworkers have lost their lives. If nothing is done, more than 86 people could die in the mines in 2018, more than in 2017,” said Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini.
The death toll of mineworkers in South Africa rose to 86 in 2017, putting an end to a decade of lowering fatality rates.
“Employers prioritise their profits. There was a shift, employers stopped focusing on health and security and now focus on the maximisation of their profits,” said Dlamini.
After the reading of a memorandum outside the chamber, the picketers elbowed their way into the building. They wanted Chamber of Mines chief executive Roger Baxter to sign it.
In this memorandum, the NUM and Cosatu outlined the increase in fatalities across the mining sector and called for the enforcement of the Mine Health and Safety Act.
The two groups accuse Sibanye of removing health and safety representatives while pursuing disciplinary action against members for attending memorials during office hours.
Failing to meet Baxter, the delegation was received by the chamber’s administration head Jeanette Hosfayer and by its head of health and safety, Sizwe Phakathi. Phakathi said that the Chamber of Mines has already engaged with Sibanye.
“We recognise that we are not where we want to be. We are still committed to reaching the target of zero harm,” he said.
As the picket continued, a memorial service in honour of the seven deceased mineworkers was held at the mine. The president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, Joseph Mathunjwa, said at the ceremony: “Workers are being paid slave wages and are easy to replace, which is why companies are not investing in workers safety.”