10 May 2018

South Africa: Miners Protest for Better Safety Following Sibanye Stillwater Deaths

COSATU and National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) members picketed outside the Chamber of Mines in Johannesburg's city centre on Thursday. The several dozen protesters demanded better safety precautions for miners.

The picket followed the deaths of seven Sibanye Stillwater workers on 3 May. They were trapped in the mine after seismic activity caused a rockfall. The memorial service for the miners took place on Thursday morning.

The unions are demanding that Sibanye Stillwater collaborates with NUM to develop and implement a "turnaround strategy on health and safety", and that workers get paid leave when attending colleagues' memorial services.

The unions' memorandum said the mining sector has experienced 33 fatalities since the beginning of the year, of which 12 were at Sibanye Stillwater. It also mentioned the recent incident where 1,000 workers were trapped underground at Sibanye Stillwater.

"The sector's performance on health and safety in the mines is unacceptable and it also does not bring us closer to the zero harm aspiration," read the memorandum.

The leadership of the unions demanded that the Chamber of Mines CEO Roger Baxter address them and make a written commitment to meeting their demands. (At one point the leaders entered the Chamber of Mines offices, and it appeared that a sit-in may take place.)

Instead, the unions' leadership was met by the Chamber of Mines Head of Safety and Sustainable Development Sizwe Phakati. He received the memorandum on Baxter's behalf. Chamber of Mines representatives said that Baxter was attending the memorial service at the time of the protest, but the union leaders responded that the memorial was over.

After about an hour, Phakati returned with a written letter addressing some of the demands.

He said Baxter was willing to engage with the unions. A meeting with the management of Sibanye Stillwater and the unions would be arranged. He said the safety of miners was a collaborative effort.

"As employers we are actually accepting full responsibility and it is our role to make sure that every miner comes home unharmed every day. We recognise the impact these incidents have on the loved ones of our colleagues and that these are not just numbers but people," said Phakati.

The union leadership accepted the response and gave the Chamber of Mines seven days to respond to the memorandum in detail.

Sdumo Dlamini, COSATU's president, told GroundUp that the unions did not trust employers like the Chamber of Mines but he was happy that it committed to a meeting with the board of Sibanye and Baxter within seven days.

"Every day the mineworkers suffer and die. Their limbs are amputated because of these mine accidents and every day they hope to see justice ... [COSATU] being here today gives them hope that at least there is a chance of justice," said Dlamini.

President of NUM, Piet Matosa, said that if the Chamber of Mines did not respond within seven days, the unions would have to mobilise their members for further national action.

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