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NUM applies for court ban against Anglo American over health and safety laws

16 March, 2023The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union, has applied for a court interdict to stop Anglo American’s attempts to move mineworkers from being regulated by the strict Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA, 1996). 

The global multinational mining company, which expresses commitment to the ILO’s fundamental rights at work in its policies, wants the mineworkers to fall under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA, 1993) which does not cover the mining sector and gives workers less protection.

In May 2021, IndustriALL and Anglo American signed a memorandum of understanding on the framework for global dialogue. One priority issue is that it will be a forum for identifying collaboration opportunities on safety and health issues at the workplace, including occupational health and safety. 

“Anglo American’s actions are contradictory to the spirit of the memorandum of understanding. The memorandum strives for the highest standard, the MHSA, and opting for a standard not meant to address the mining industry is baffling,” 

says Glen Mpufane, director of mining and OHS organizational lead. 

The union wants mineworkers to remain under the MHSA, which gives workers better protection, and argues that rights will be lost if the change occurs. These include the right to refuse dangerous work, inspectors’ powers to deal with dangerous conditions and to recommend fines, initiating investigations and reporting serious injuries and fatalities and the right to participate in inquiries and joint inquests. The NUM says these rights are absent from the OHSA.

The NUM also fears that the implementation will result in the exclusion of workers from Waterval Smelter, Anglo Converter Plant, Precious Refinery, Rustenburg Base Metal Refinery and Mortimer Smelter who fall outside the scope covered by the MHSA. The union is not convinced by the reasons given by Anglo American, who sold mining rights at the smelters while retaining surface rights and process operations.

According to the law, failure to comply with the laws can only be done after obtaining an exemption from the minister of mineral resources and energy. The NUM says the MHSA is the only legislation applicable to mines as the OHSA does not apply in respect of a “mine, mining area or any works as defined in the mineral and petroleum resources development act.”

Mpho Phakedi, NUM deputy general secretary says: 

“The promulgation of the MHSA was a huge victory for the mineworkers and such gains cannot be reversed by this unlawful migration by Anglo American. The reason for the migration is simple: Anglo American seeks to move away from the strict regulatory regime of the department of mineral resources and energy to the toothless and incompetent department of labour inspectorate. The migration will result in mine workers losing their hard-fought rights as contained in the MHSA.”

In the long term, the NUM and other unions want the two Acts to be merged as there are no laws which allow mining companies to switch from one law to another.