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Three workers die under collapsing stack at ArcelorMittal South Africa

18 February, 2021IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) is mourning the death of three workers killed by a collapsing building at the ArcelorMittal plant in Vanderbijlpark on 16 February.

NUMSA reports that a rescue operation was carried out mainly by workers to retrieve the bodies of the deceased workers from the rubble as the company efforts were slow and inefficient. According to ArcelorMittal, a 90-metre-tall stack made of brick and stone over the coke oven collapsed and the rubble buried a monitoring booth with the three workers inside.

Kabelo Ramokhathali, NUMSA regional secretary for Sedibeng says:

“This is a terrible and devastating incident, especially for the families of the victims. They have waited and anxiously hoped that their loved ones could be found alive. Unfortunately, that was not to be. We send our deepest condolences to the family and friends of those who have passed away. NUMSA is calling on the Department of Employment and Labour to embark on a detailed and thorough investigation into the cause of this incident.”

NUMSA says ArcelorMittal has been “brutal” in the way it dealt with health and safety concerns raised by the union resulting in the dismissal of a shop steward who exposed poor health and safety protocols at the company prior to this accident.

Matthias Hartwich, director for the base metals sector of IndustriALL says:

“ArcelorMittal has promised that there will be a thorough investigation of the case, and that NUMSA will be invited to take part in the investigations.”

The sister unions forming the ArcelorMittal global union network provided their immediate solidarity. For example, in a solidarity letter Paulo Cayres and Maicon Michel, president and director of the International Affairs of the CNM-CUT of Brazil say:

“If the absence of an intervention team in charge of the company is confirmed, it is be a profoundly serious and intolerable event. We believe it is essential to establish the causes and responsibilities so that accidents like this do not have to happen again.”

Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa says:

“We have received the sad news of the deaths with a great shock and disbelief, and immediately joined the families of the deceased workers in mourning. The health and safety of workers should remain a priority and it is important to have emergency response teams on standby and always ready when such incidents happen. We expect the investigation will shad a light to what happened.”