25 March, 2020Mining unions in Sub Saharan Africa are calling for due diligence and adherence to health and safety standards, and national and supranational protocols to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). These calls come amidst national states of disasters and lockdowns in most countries.
Unions are advocating for responses to the pandemic that include best practices from occupational health and safety as seen in past campaigns on silicosis, tuberculosis and HIV and AIDS. Most unions are promoting the thorough washing of hands and have cancelled most of their activities to maintain social distancing.
Abdul-Moomin Gbana, the general secretary of the Ghana Mine Workers Union said:
“We are deeply concerned by the global COVID-19 and the potential consequences on the health and safety of our members, as well as the operational business implications for the mining companies, and the industry at large. In difficult times such as what the world is currently grappling with, the union is urging all employers in the industry to continuously leverage their longstanding experience as health and safety champions to stop the spread of COVID-19 from wreaking havoc in Ghana’s mining industry.”
David Sipunzi, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) general secretary said:
“After meeting with the Minerals Council of South Africa, we are happy that the mining companies are coming on board. They are taking this pandemic seriously.”
The mining companies promised to assist by making their clinics available to deal with the pandemic.
An example of the COVID-19 protocols is the Minerals Council of South Africa’s 10-point plan. The plan includes health workers’ readiness, ensuring access to consumables, a proactive influenza vaccination programme, understanding the potential impact on workers with compromised immunities, case management and contact-tracing, isolation of positive cases, reporting, monitoring and travel advice.
The NUM is urging mining companies to implement the plan and says “mining companies must develop urgent policies that address commitment and responses to the pandemic to reduce the risk of transmission at the workplace. Companies should improve hygiene through providing sanitizers, soap, gloves and masks. Those with minor flu and coughing must be given masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease.”
The union recommends identifying and treating workers at risk early. The NUM says workers who contract the disease at work, including healthcare workers at mine clinics, should receive compensation through the Compensation for Occupational Diseases Act. Workers must be allowed to take sick leave due to coronavirus symptoms or quarantine periods. Further, it is important to decongest and disinfect waiting areas, communal spaces and shared facilities and for COVID-19 information to be accessible.
The Mineworkers Union of Zambia has successfully campaigned for the use of alcohol breathalyzer tests to be discontinued as they can easily spread the coronavirus. Some mining companies that include Mopane Copper Mines, Lubambe Copper Mine, Kanshanshi and Barrick Lumwana complied. Additionally, biometric systems in which workers used fingers are also unsafe.