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African countries urged to ratify ILO C176 on mine safety

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9 September, 2019Ratifying and implementing the International Labour Organization Convention 176 is an important step in improving mine safety and health and reducing deaths from mine accidents in Sub Saharan Africa.

Deaths from mine accidents have increased since 2016; in coal mines deaths have risen by 400 per cent, whilst in other mines by 67 per cent globally. Deaths have also increased in the gold and platinum mines.

A meeting on 22-23 August organized by IndustriALL Global Union urged Sub Saharan countries that have not ratified ILO C176 to do so. Attended by 30 participants from IndustriALL affiliates in Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Lesotho, Madagascar, Namibia, Niger, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the meeting discussed how public debates on health and safety in the mines are important. Laws and regulations also needed to be strengthened as well as implementing and enforcing of the laws.

Trade unions were urged to include mine health and safety in collective bargaining agreements. Workers were also encouraged to exercise their rights of refusal to do dangerous work when forced by employers to work in unsafe environments. Unions should also challenge employers who did not comply with health and safety standards.

Nancy Coulson from the University of the Witwatersrand’s emphasized the critical role of the union health and safety representative citing international best practices and examples from South African mines. She stressed the importance of representatives to always serve the interests of the mineworkers and not the employers:

“The health and safety representative should perform their role according to the laws, and these include the right to inform on hazards, investigate the workplace to ensure compliance, listen to worker complaints, point out lapses to the employer, and be involved in consultations on health and safety plans.”

Of the countries present at the meeting Guinea, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe have ratified ILO C176. Other countries that have ratified are Botswana and Mozambique.

Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL director of mining said:

“Protecting the lives of mineworkers is a crucial function of trade unions and unions must vigorously campaign for better health and safety in the mines. Ratifying and implementing C176 is important to achieving this goal. In countries that have not ratified, unions should campaign not only for ratification, but for implementation of existing safety and health laws.”

The meeting was also attended by the International Labour Organization, government officials from the South African department of mineral resources and energy.