South Africa union tells mineworkers to resist Harmony Gold mine restart

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) has told members not to go back to work at Harmony Gold's HARJ.J Target mine on Friday, the union said as mines across the country prepare to restart as the COVID-19 lockdown eases.

FILE PHOTO: A woman holding an umbrella walks past a shaft at Harmony Gold's Doornkop mine, 30km west of Johannesburg, South Africa, March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

“As far as we know, Harmony has not implemented the necessary safety steps to ensure that the workplace is safe,” NUMSA said in a statement on Tuesday. “As we speak, with the current skeleton staff, they are failing to maintain proper health and safety standards.”

Mineworkers worldwide are resisting going back to work in deep mines where social distancing is nearly impossible and where they are sometimes not provided with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

NUMSA said it demanded Harmony Gold “drastically” reduce the number of people in shaft cages, provide the necessary PPE, disinfect mine accommodation, and pay employees their full salary for the duration of the lockdown.

In response to a request for comments, Harmony Gold said it rolled out a COVID-19 prevention strategy across its operations before South Africa’s lockdown was announced, and had a plan to ensure a safe restart.

“Harmony’s COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedure is aimed at ensuring a safe return to work for each of its employees and meeting the conditions contained in the amended lockdown regulations published in the Government Gazette on 16 April 2020 for the safe resumption of operations,” the statement read.

Harmony added that it has a medical hub at each of its mines.

South Africa government imposed a strict lockdown on March 27 to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. Most mines were forced to temporarily shut down.

However, mindful of the economic damage caused by the shutdown of a sector which contributes 8% of gross domestic product, the government on April 16 said it would allow mines to start up again at up to 50% capacity.

On May 1 South Africa will begin a phased reopening of the economy with travel restrictions eased and some industries, such as mining, allowed to operate.

Reporting by Helen Reid; editing by David Evans and Emelia Sithole-Matarise