Trade union the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has called for an urgent virtual high-level stakeholder engagement to deliberate on concerns regarding Covid-19 vaccinations for mineworkers, and to chart a way forward.
It says in a January 4 statement that it believes the Minerals Council South Africa is “ideally situated to facilitate such an engagement”.
AMCU has, however, reiterated its concern about the record levels of Covid-19 infections in South Africa during the festive season, as well as the many officially declared hotspots across the country.
The union says the return to work by hundreds of thousands of mineworkers under these circumstances will post further risk of contagion and rapid spreading of the virus to the mines and mining communities.
To strengthen compliance with basic precautionary measures (such as wearing face masks, physical distancing and regular sanitising), AMCU has embarked on various awareness campaigns where it has “consistently emphasised the importance of rigorous screening and universal testing”.
For this reason, the union is appealing to all mining houses to ensure that their employees are vaccinated against Covid-19, as it “has become clear that the public health system will not be able to start with vaccinations until the middle of 2021”.
AMCU has called on the private sector to assist with this matter so as to alleviate pressure on the government and public health to ensure the procurement, distribution and administering of a duly approved vaccine to workers and communities.
In an emailed response to Mining Weekly, the Minerals Council confirmed that the industry's focus right now "is on prevention, which includes screening and testing, putting appropriate hygiene and social distancing measures in place, and education for behavioural change".
The industry is, however, engaging with government to support and align with its plans, and the mining industry will fall in line with priority guidelines adopted in the country as a whole, the council said.
In the interim, all employees returning from foreign destinations will return to work only after testing negative for Covid-19, and special precautions will also be taken in respect of employees returning from South African “hotspot” areas.
The provisions of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy's Covid-19 guidelines will continue to be observed daily, "as has been the case for several months".
With regard to AMCU's request, the Minerals Council said that it would respond to AMCU directly, after having consulted with its members.