War of words after NUM blocked from Impala Platinum mine

A war of words has broken out between labour unions after 12 workers perished this week following a lift accident at Impala Platinum mine in Rustenburg.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is complaining that its health and safety officials are being from accessing the North West mine.

This comes after the accident – caused by the failure of a winding rope connected to a lift that takes workers in and out of the mine shaft – also resulted in 74 people being injured.

Eleven workers died on Monday while another one passed away on Wednesday after being hospitalised due to the gruesome accident.

However, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), the majority union at the mine, dismissed NUM’s complaint, saying the union lacked representation at the platinum-belt-based mining firm.

Union blocked

“The NUM is deeply concerned and worried that since the tragic incident at Impala Platinum where 12 mineworkers died and 74 were injured on Monday evening, its health and safety structure leadership both nationally and regionally have been deliberately blocked from accessing the mine,” said the union’s deputy president Phillip Vilakazi.

Vilakazi said though the NUM was not a recognised or a majority union at Impala Platinum, it has a right to access the premises as it represents a lot of members at the mine.

“The NUM is unhappy that since the accident happened on Monday evening, its health and safety leaders nationally and regionally have been deliberately blocked by the company and its security from accessing the mine.

“The NUM was not invited to participate in the in-loco inspection. What is disturbing is that the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy inspectorate was aware that NUM was not invited and engaged by the company.

“The company is even refusing to give NUM the statistics as to how many members of the NUM have died and those who are injured.”

He added that the union was sending its “heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of those killed during this difficult time”.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa told Sunday World that it was allowed to participate in health and safety inquiry relating to the deadly accident.

Taking chances

“NUM represents few workers at the mines. Nevertheless, health and safety representatives are impartial and not chosen due to union representation,” said Mathunjwa.

“NUM just wants to make an issue out of nothing. If any of them are not there [at the mine], this means they were not elected by the workers. The NUM is taking chances.”

He said Amcu still believes that Impala was negligent, saying the company never tested the rope and the lift thoroughly before letting staff members to use it.

The government this week launched a three-month probe into the accident to determine the cause of the mechanical fault and who should be held liable.

Impala Platinum spokesperson Emma Townshend told Sunday World NUM represented 4% of the workforce while Amcu has 75% membership, making it the majority union at Impala Rustenburg.

“This level of representation is regulated by a formal recognition agreement concluded between the mine and Amcu – aligned to the provisions of the Labour Regulation Act.

“The NUM has less than 4% representation at the mine and consequentially no formal workplace rights and/or privileges. Any request by the NUM to visit the workplace (11 Shaft), must therefore be ratified by Amcu, aligned with the provisions of said recognition agreement,” said Townshend.

Few workers discharged from hospital

Meanwhile, Townshend said 14 of the 74 employees in hospital for both precautionary and emergency care following the Impala Rustenburg 11 Shaft accident have been discharged.

“Of the remaining 60 hospitalised employees, 10 remain in critical care. No further fatalities
have been reported,” she said.

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