Briefing by Department of Labour on Convention Concerning Safety and Health in Mines (No 176)

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SELECT COMMITTEE ON LABOUR AND PUBLIC ENTERPRISES

SELECT COMMITTEE ON LABOUR AND PUBLIC ENTERPRISES
16 November 1999
BRIEFING BY DEPARTMENT OF LABOUR ON CONVENTION CONCERNING SAFETY AND HEALTH IN MINES (NO 176)


Documents handed out:
International Labour Conference (convention 176)

SUMMARY
Representatives from the Department of Labour were present to brief the committee on the convention. Certain regulations on safety in mines were highlighted and the committee was asked to vote on whether South Africa would ratify the convention or not.

All present agreed to ratification and, accordingly the Convention was ratified.

MINUTES
Mr Keltledas (Deputy Director-General of labour) said that Convention 176 was adopted by the International Labour Conference (ILO) at its eighty-second session in Geneva. South Africa sent a full delegation to this conference which included delegates from the mining industry, specifically, delegates from the National Union of Mineworkers and the Chamber of Mines.

Mr Kettledas highlighted some of the specific provisions which emerged from the Convention. These provisions include the following –

- The institution of compulsory minimum standards in mines to safeguard the health of mineworkers against exposure to mine sicknesses.
- The periodic review of safety and health in mines (to be performed by the Department of Labour).
- Procedures for reporting accidents and dangerous occurrences in mines.
- The requirement that employers must take measures to minimise risks in mines.
- Mines should be designed in a manner which promotes safety.
- Mineworkers should be informed of possible exposure to risks prevalent in that mine.
- A geographical design of the mine should be kept at a place known to all (to ensure that the workers know where they are and how to get out).
- The staff should have basic training in health matters.
- It has to be ensured that accidents are reported and investigated.

In addition to these factors, it was noted that a core provision of the convention was that the convention itself had made provision for certain categories of mines to be excluded from the ambit of its application.

Recommendation 183 of Convention 176 provides further guidelines on the implementation thereof.

Mr Kettledas noted that at the time when the Convention was being discussed, the mining industry in South Africa was reviewing its own mine safety regulations. As these two processes coincided, South Africa could build the provisions of the Convention into its legislation. The result of this was that when the Mining Act was passed in 1996, it fully complied with the requirements of the Convention.

The procedure for ratifying this convention was explained. After ratification was approved by Parliament, it would be referred to the Department of Foreign Affairs. Thereafter, the instrument would be deposited in Geneva, Switzerland. The duty then lay with South Africa to comply with it. Two years after such date, South Africa would have to report to the ILO on the progress which it has made.

It was explained that ratification by South Africa would mean that;
(a) South Africa agrees to implement the letter and the spirit of the convention and,
(b) South Africa submits to the ILO’s supervision measures to implement the Convention. This is so because there is a clause in the constitution of the ILO which gives them the right to require reports (which relate to measures adopted regarding specific conventions) from nations which have ratified that specific convention.

Questions and comments by committee members
Mr Moosa (ANC) asked for an explanation of the exclusion of certain categories of mines. He wanted to know what kinds of categories could be excluded, whether there could be partial or total exclusion, and, if such an ‘out’ existed, then what was the relevance of ratifying the convention in the first place.
Mr Kettledas replied that partial or total exclusion was possible and that a decision regarding an exclusion would be decided at a national level. He stated, for example, that it may be desirable that oil and gas mines be excluded from the provisions of the convention. However if a member state did decide to have an exclusion it would have to be done in accordance with certain rules set out in the convention. The exclusion would have to be registered in terms of the convention and it would have to be decided upon with the member state on a tripartite level.
He added that South Africa has not registered any exclusions.

Mr Moosa commented that if any country could decide to exclude then the effect of the convention was weakened. He asked how the ILO expected to achieve mine safety across the board with such exclusions in place?
Mr Kettledas responded that most conventions contained such an exclusion clause as member countries to the ILO all had different levels of development.
He indicated that the convention itself was adopted at a tripartite conference. If it was ratified then that member state would be required to submit reports to the ILO. These reports must be the product of tripartite discussion (which means that representatives from labour, business, and government must have contributed). It was required that the most representative worker and employer organisation had to be consulted. The report would have to state specifically that there was consultation and also what the views of the consulted parties was. If this was not done then workers could lodge a complaint with the ILO, as the constitution of the ILO gave them the right to launch a complaint of non-consultation. In addition to this, workers have a right to send their own report, in addition to the government report to the ILO.

In response to other questions by committee members the following points emerged:

If the convention was ratified, the whole process would take approximately two months and could be effective early next year.

Ratification of a convention cannot invalidate legislation.

After a report has been submitted by a member state, the ILO has the right to ask for clarification on certain points. Thus, they have a supervisory function.

The ILO’s approach to getting compliance with the conventions is of a promotional character. This point was demonstrated with examples.

The ILO visited Swaziland and found certain legislation to be inadequate (in relation to a ratified convention). In response to this they held talks with delegates from government, and employers and employees organisations which was aimed at bringing the relevant Swaziland legislation ‘up to scratch’. If such attempts have been made and non-compliance persists then the offending party must come before a standing committee of experts (part of the ILO) to indicate what plans are being made to remove the inadequacies.

In Burma, after repeated attempts to stop forced labour, the ILO adopted the strongest sanction yet on a member state. They decided to stop all technical assistance to Burma, unless it was aimed at ending the forced labour. (Thus, all workshops and symposiums not directed toward this end was stopped).

After reading the report, it was agreed by all present that the Convention would be ratified.

Accordingly, the Chairperson declared the Convention officially ratified and the meeting was adjourned.

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