‘South African mine companies exposing workers to risk of virus’ says NUM – as Shoprite Checkers demand stores be shut down

NUM members on a demonstration – the union in Kimberley accuses the mine owners of taking short cuts over safety

THE KIMBERLEY Region of the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) has expressed its disappointment and concern following the decision by Gwede Mantashe, South Africa’s Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, to allow mines to operate at just 50% capacity.

According to a statement issued by the NUM, since that announcement by Mantashe mines in the Northern Cape ‘have taken advantage and taken short cuts in implementing the return-to-work business plan.
‘We have engaged with almost every company in the Northern Cape, part of the Free State and the North West, including contractors. We are very disappointed and perturbed by the attitudes of these mines.
‘They are exposing workers to the risk of contracting the coronavirus, and they are not adhering to the regulations. There is no compliance on critical issues outlined in the regulations of Covid-19 for mines to operate at 50% capacity.
‘They are forcing employees to take unpaid leave,’ said NUM Kimberley Region secretary Cornelius Manhe. ‘We are perplexed by CEOs who refuse to test workers to establish if they are affected by the coronavirus and want to implement screening only.
‘Screening cannot be the only way to determine whether employees are affected by Covid-19 or not. We thus call upon the CEOs to reverse their decision in this regard if they care about their employees.’
Manhe explained that the majority of mining companies had refused to pay employees their salaries, stating that they had applied to the Department of Labour for UIF (Unemployment Insurance Funding) as they did not have the ‘financial muscle’ to pay salaries.
‘The NUM has rejected this attitude of some of the employers because these employers were making huge profits before Covid-19. They never declared that they had financial constraints.’
According to Manhe, some companies had even gone as far as cutting the salaries of employees by a third, which, he added, was a direct undermining of regulations.
‘Nowhere have regulations ever suggested that employers can cut workers’ salaries. Another worrying factor is the issue of transport. The regulations are clear that companies must arrange transport for all employees during the lockdown.’
He stated that a further critical point of contention were mine cages. ‘Employers are arguing that a reduced number of employees are placed in a cage. However, we feel that this is still risky because it is difficult to adhere to social distancing in a cage.’
The NUM called on its members not to hesitate to initiate Section 23 of the Mine Health and Safety Act. ‘This is the only legal recourse they can utilise to protect themselves from endangering their health and safety. The MHSA (Mine Health and Safety Act, Section 23, empowers miners to refuse to work in dangerous environments.’
The union called on the Department of Minerals and Energy (DMRE) to immediately close mining companies that are not in compliance with regulations. ‘We further call on the Department of Labour to send out inspectors to monitor the compliance of contractors operating at mines because employers in this sector are known for not complying to legislation.’
Manhe added that the coronavirus is ‘way more dangerous than just the flu’ and is killing thousands of people around the world. ‘Many countries have declared war on the virus – including South Africa.
‘NUM members and other workers cannot be sacrificed for profits during this crisis. We expect all mining companies in South Africa to adhere to the strict health and safety measures in fighting the virus in their operations.
‘The NUM calls on its members to refuse to work in mines and operations where necessary strict measures are not put in place to protect them from the virus. The NUM will not hesitate to name and shame mining companies that are not adhering to the strict health and safety measures in fighting the virus.’

  • In Cape Town meanwhile, outraged Shoprite Checkers employees around have called for stores that recorded Covid-19 cases to be shut down: claiming two staff members died, with more getting infected.

Checkers Sun Valley Mall in Noordhoek, Fish Hoek, temporarily closed its doors after a support employee tested positive for the virus. This comes after the Bayside Mall, Table View, store confirmed another case on Thursday; the store initially closed on April 14 and reopened two days later, before being closed again last week.
‘On Thursday, Checkers Table View closed after another positive Covid-19 test. More employee screenings are taking place, and a professional decontamination company is being brought in to sanitise and deep-clean the store again.
‘We appeal to customers who have any health concerns to call the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) helpline or the government hotline,’ the Shoprite Group said in a statement.
Shoprite said that the well-being and health of employees, customers and communities was paramount. ‘We will continue to do everything in our power to safeguard them,’ it said. Then an employee who tested positive said staff member deaths were reported on Wednesday and Thursday.
‘It is no longer safe to work there, and we don’t understand why the Department of Health is allowing them to continue operating. They have blood on their hands because they chose to put business above our lives and that of customers – they lied to the media and everyone else, claiming when they reopened all employees were screened.
‘Most of us were screened, while others carried on working without being screened. New staff members were brought in to replace those quarantined, but some were also not tested. So we don’t know each other’s status.
‘We want justice and an investigation. They are continuing with lies, because after closing on Thursday they reopened today,’ the employee said.
Another employee in Table View said after two managers tested positive, staff showing symptoms were told to go home. ‘We thought since there is a possibility we are infected we would be transported home or tested at work, so that we could be isolated from our families. Instead, we had to use public transport to get home.
‘We will only be able to get tested tomorrow, as it is a holiday and clinics are closed. So if we are positive, how will they trace people we were with in the same taxis and buses? They don’t care if we infect people in our informal settlements.’
She added that other employees informed her that the store opened yesterday for customers, while at the back of the store employees were being screened.
The SA Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers’ Union (Saccawu) secretariat co-ordinator, Lucas Ramatlhodi, said too that some companies were using the coronavirus to trample on workers’ rights.
‘Employers have struck new gold with the coronavirus, while trade union officials are not deemed essential workers to defend workers. It’s as if the Labour Relations Act has been suspended,’ he said.