Seven Mineworkers Die At Driefontein Mine

Demonstration outside the Kloof mine near Durban where two miners were killed in March
Demonstration outside the Kloof mine near Durban where two miners were killed in March

AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa has criticised the Mineral Resources Department after the deaths of seven mineworkers at Sibanye-Stillwater’s mine in Driefontein.

He said on Saturday that the department is failing in its role as the regulator of the mining industry.

The workers were trapped underground at the Maskhane shaft after a seismic event on Thursday.

The six surviving workers are receiving treatment in hospital.

Mathunjwa has called on government to ensure that mining bosses prioritise the well-being of workers. He said: ‘The department must make new regulations in terms of the mines.

‘These mines are old. They need new regulations which stipulate that miners can’t go deeper in certain places.’

Earlier, Mathunjwa conveyed condolences to the families of seven mineworkers who died.

He also wished the injured workers a speedy recovery.

He said: ‘We’d like to send our heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased mineworkers.’

He added that mining companies need to do more to ensure the safety of its workers. The AMCU leader said: ‘Mining companies should invest more in research and innovation, so they can come up with new technologies that will pinpoint the weak spots to prevent these types of incidents.’

AMCU says mine safety has become a human rights issue and that legislation should be strengthened to hold mining bosses criminally accountable for failing to ensure safety at operations.

Mathunjwa, said the mining companies should also face civil claims when accidents such as the Sibanye-Stillwater incident happen.

He stressed: ‘It is simply ludicrous that the life of a mineworker is worth a mere 36 months of basic salary. ‘AMCU has proposed a system much similar to the Road Accident Fund (RAF), in order to compensate workers and their families when these tragic events occur. ‘The union undertakes to heighten its campaign in ensuring that the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) ups its game in regulating mining in South Africa. ‘The union will be meeting with Minister Gwede Mantashe to discuss the failures of DMR in this and other regards.’ Sibanye says it’s probing the cause of the accident, with some investigators from the Mineral Resources Department.

Sibanye-Stillwater’s Masakhane Shaft in Westonaria, Johannesburg, has been closed.

Sibanye-Stillwater has an appalling safety record. Two workers died at Kloof mine in March, and earlier 1,000 workers were trapped underground when there was a power failure. Those workers were later brought safely to the ground when the power was restored. Twenty-six mineworkers have died from mine accidents since the beginning of this year.

In 2017, 30% of the accidents were caused by seismic activities in gold mines which have become dangerous workplaces. After having seen a drop in mining accidents in South Africa, this all changed last year. Laws and regulations seem unable to stop the rising death tolls from mining accidents. The Mining Health and Safety Act, which set up an inspectorate to monitor safety standards and stop violations, appeared to have improved safety over the years before the reverse started happening.

Says Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL director for mining: ‘South African mines are increasingly becoming dangerous death traps for mineworkers, and this situation can’t be allowed to continue. ‘The health and safety of workers who toil daily to feed their families is very important and mining companies have a responsibility to ensure safety standards that safeguard the precious lives of mineworkers are adhered to.’

• Five unions representing bus drivers have vowed to intensify their strike action after negotiations with the employers collapsed once again. The bus strike enters its 4th week this week, with no resolution in sight. The unions’ joint statement said: ‘The five trade unions in the bus sector SATAWU, NUMSA, TIRISANO, TAWUSA, and TOWU have decided to embark on mass action to intensify the strike in the bus sector. We are calling on the community and all progressive organisations to join us in mass action against the bus companies.

‘This is because employers in the bus sector have declared war on commuters. They did not attend the mediation with the goal of resolving the strike. They wasted our time. The only offer they are willing to engage in is the same mediator’s offer which was presented to us in the last round of mediation!

‘They have shown workers and the commuters at large the middle finger. Their refusal to engage meaningfully in wage talks demonstrates that they are dishonest and disingenuous and have displayed nothing but contempt for workers and the community at large. ‘In comparison, as trade unions we attended every mediation with the intention of resolving the strike. We have moved several times in the course of the negotiations to try and meet the bosses halfway. We have made different proposals and have offered compromises on our position, but the employers have steadfastly refused to budge.’

The statement added that the employers have misled the media and public. It said: ‘They claim they never engaged on an offer of 9% for the first year and 9,5% for the second year which is blatantly false! They made that offer last week at the mediation, but by the end of the talks they withdrew the offer. ‘The only offer on the table now is an offer which was proposed by mediators of 8% for the first year and 8.5% for the second year. ‘And this includes that all other demands must fall away. We reject this offer with the contempt it deserves!

‘The following issues have added to the impasse:

• The bosses want to continue to abuse workers by denying the alternative driver his full wages. The second driver on long distance trips only gets paid for the time that he is actively driving the bus. He is not paid for all the hours he spends on the bus waiting to relieve the first driver for the journey to the destination.

• The bosses want to continue to subvert the law by refusing to pay the night shift allowance in accordance with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. • The offer is not back-dated, and implementable only upon signing.

‘ We cannot compromise on these core demands because they are flagrant abuse of workers’ rights. Furthermore our members have made it clear that this year, they will not return to work until this kind of abuse and exploitation has been decisively dealt with.

‘The presence of shareholders like Yunis Shaik to the mediations is partly to blame for the breakdown in wage talks. Yunis is a major shareholder at Golden Arrows and is politically connected.

‘He is the brother to Schabir Shaik who was found guilty and sentenced to jail for his corrupt relationship with former president Jacob Zuma. The goal of these greedy shareholders is to protect their own selfish interests at the expense of workers and their families.

‘They have demonstrated their ruthlessness and do not care about their employees, or the public at large. As unions we have consistently negotiated in good faith but these racist, arrogant abusive exploiters keep wasting our time and precious resources by playing games.

‘The bosses don’t care about the inconvenience to ordinary commuters. We think the employers extreme arrogance is informed by the fact that the state is helping them by subsidising them while this strike is underway. ‘It is outrageous that whilst our members are being denied wages during this strike, the same taxes which are deducted from them are being used to reward the greedy selfish bosses of the bus companies!

‘The employers will only take this process seriously if the Department of Transport withdraws the transport subsidy to the bus sector to force them to conduct these talks in good faith. ‘We demand that the transport minister must withdraw the subsidy because if he does not, these employers will continue to abuse workers and insult commuters.’