SAfrican miners down tools over safety

Tens of thousands of mineworkers have held a one day strike in South Africa over concerns about safety standards.

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The striking workers have also accused their bosses of putting lives at risk for profits.

It was the first stoppage by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) since the end of apartheid.

The action affected production at mines across the country with some owners saying only a small percentage of the normal workforce had reported for duty.

Many of the stayaway workers gathered for rallies organised by the NUM as part of the drive to cut the level of injuries and fatalities in South Africa's mines.

About 200 people die in mine accidents every year.

“We are dying in mines but we get nothing. We want change, we want to work safe,” said 26-year-old miner, Thembisile Marrent.

“When you get accidents the boss wants to know how it happened, if you made a mistake or if it was bad luck,” he said at a rally in Johannesburg.

“If the mistake is yours, they charge you (with disciplinary offences) even though you are in hospital,” he said.

Many of the protesters in Johannesburg carried banners saying the owners of the country's 700 mines were “dripping in blood” as they pursued profit at the expense of safety.

“Things have improved a bit but they are still pushing production more than safety,” said Toko Molale, who has been working at a platinum mine for the last 13 years.

NUM secretary general Frans Baleni told AFP mining was “not a normal environment, yet the wages are very very low.”

“Safety is compromised because the workers are trying to get bonuses”.

“We are not here for a wage increase but to raise the fact that we are dying underground,” he said.

Negligence must be prosecuted

At the end of the rally, the union handed over a list of demands to the country's chamber of mines and the government's department of energy and mines.

The list demand more prosecutions of negligent bosses.

“As far back as year 2000 no employer has ever been prosecuted or even charged by the directorate of public prosecutions (DPP) anywhere in the country, hence the rising levels of accidents and fatalities,” said the petition.

The chamber of mines has acknowledged that much needs to be done to improve safety but insists there is no complacency within the industry.

A spokesman for Anglo American, the country's biggest mining house which operates coal, gold, diamonds and platinum mines, insisted safety was the number one priority.

“A comprehensive set of safety standards and initiatives has been designed and implemented,” Pranill Ramchanger told AFP.

Production halted.

Goldfields, one of the country's biggest mining firms, said that around two-thirds of its workers had taken part in the strike.

“The largest stay away is at our Kloof mine where up to 75 per cent of the employees did not report for the morning shift,” said spokesman Andrew Davidson.

A spokeswoman for another major industry player, Harmony, said attendance at the company's 22 mines had varied but the strike “will have a significant impact on production”.

Union chiefs have said strike action could be intensified if employers do not make significant inroads into the levels of mining fatalities.

Long standing concerns

Concerns over safety reached a new peak in early October when some 3,200 miners were stuck underground in a Harmony gold mine southwest of Johannesburg for more than 24 hours after a lift cable snapped.

The incident led President Thabo Mbeki to order a security audit of the mines in the country.

Mining, which generated 195 billion rand ($A32.8 billion) in local sales last year, is the largest foreign exchange earner for South Africa and brought in a total of 355 billion rand $A59.6

billion) from exports.

AFP