Guidelines must be issued requiring mines to mitigate effects of Covid-19
The Labour Court on Friday reviewed and set aside the decisions taken by the mineral resources and energy minister not to require employers to prepare and implement a code of practice on the Covid-19 pandemic and not to issue guidelines in terms of the Mine Health and Safety Act.
The act requires that an employer must prepare and implement a code of practice on any matter affecting the health or safety of employees and other persons who may be directly affected by activities at the mine if the chief inspector of the mines requires it.
The court also ordered the chief inspector of mines, by no later than May 18, to publish a notice in the government gazette containing safety guidelines in terms of the Mine Health and Safety Act requiring mines to implement a code of practice to mitigate the effect of Covid-19 on the health and safety of employees.
The court said before publishing the notice, the inspection should consult with the Mine Health and Safety Council, elicit and consider all available expert advice and meaningfully engage with the relevant trade unions regarding the content of the safety guidelines.
The court made this order on Friday following an application by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) to force the department of mineral resources and energy to set minimum standards for health and safety during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The matter was heard on Wednesday and Thursday.
The union brought the application after mining companies were given the green light to ramp up to 50% of production during level 5 of the national lockdown, with production set to increase even more after May 1, when level four 4 of the lockdown commences.
Before approaching the court, Amcu wrote numerous letters pleading with the mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe to set health and safety standards for mine workers who are uniquely vulnerable to Covid-19.
The union said Mantashe ignored all Amcu's pleas and proposals thus far, and Amcu was therefore forced to approach court.
During argument on Wednesday, the department said Amcu had not tendered any evidence to prove employers are not protecting miners from Covid-19.
Mark Wesley, a lawyer representing the minister, submitted to court on Wednesday that government was not opposed to putting interim measures in place.
However, Wesley said the minister was opposed to Amcu's application as far as evidence proving that employers were not already protecting workers.
In a tweet, the union described the judgment as a very important win for mine workers.