Mining industry to reform its worker compensation system

The mining industry yesterday kick-started discussions that will pave the way for a reform of the compensation system and hopefully improve the lives of thousands of current and ex-mineworkers who were exposed to occupational hazards.

The two-day workshop, held in Johannesburg and led by Mineral Resources deputy minister Godfrey Oliphant, was the latest attempt to review the country’s fragmented compensation policies and came two days after an underground fire claimed the lives of four Impala Platinum employees at its Rustenburg 14 shaft.

Mineral Resources deputy minister Godfrey Oliphant speaks at the mineworkers compensation workshop in Sandton. PHOTO: SIMPHIWE MBOKAZI

Previous attempts to address the problem had failed and the focus was on the Department of Health and the Labour Department to develop a uniform compensation system for occupational disease for current and ex-workers.

“We are trying to solve a big problem. The ball was dropped before and a process led by (former) labour minister Membathisi Mdladlana stopped,” Oliphant said.

“I hope the reform leads to a credible compensation process that will improve the lives of thousands of ex-miners,” Oliphant added.

There were 104 000 ex-miners who were eligible for compensation after being exposed to occupational hazards, and R1.5 billion had been made available for employees from South Africa and countries including Botswana, Mozambique and Lesotho. In addition, R5bn in unclaimed funds had yet to be claimed.

According to Oliphant, 60 percent of claims were linked to tuberculosis (TB), and the Department of Mineral Resources together with the Chamber of Mines were planning to test all miners for TB over the next three years.

In 2011, the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of Thembekile Mankayi, an ex-Anglo-Gold Ashanti employee who suffered from silicosis, and who sought $342 000 (about R5.6 million) in compensation for pain and suffering, loss of earnings and medical expenses.

Mankayi died shortly before the 2011 ruling was delivered.

Thousands of mineworkers had fallen through the cracks due to the compensation flaws with the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act (Omdwa) and the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act.

For example, Omdwa, which governs the response to work-related lung and heart disease including TB and silicosis, had been bogged by administrative delays coupled with logistical hurdles that prevented the payouts for eligible current and ex-workers.

A steering committee to support the process would be established comprising the three departments, and the role of the steering committee was aimed at leading the overall direction of the process.

The Chamber of Mines said yesterday that it welcomed the convening of the workshop on the integration of compensation systems by the deputy ministers of Mineral Resources, Health and Labour.

“This is an issue that has been on the agenda of government, labour and business for some time, and it is good that the practical work to achieve the desired goal has now begun. We hope that this matter will be finalised during the course of this year.”

In terms of the Impala fire, an investigation into its causes was continuing, the company said yesterday Impala said the bodies of the four missing employees were discovered by one of the search and rescue teams late Saturday afternoon. The four employees were overcome by fumes while they were trying to find their way to safety.