Department’s Annual Report Presentation, by SA Chamber of Mines & National Union of Mineworkers

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Mineral Resources and Energy

14 November 2007
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

14 November 2007

Chairperson: Mr E Mthethwa (ANC)

Documents handed out:
National Union of Mineworkers Submission
South African Chamber of Mines submission
Department of Minerals and Energy Annual Report Presentation

Audio recording of meeting [Part 1][Part 2]

Members met with the Department of Minerals and Energy, National Union of Mine Workers and the South African Chamber of mines in order to discuss various issues. The Department’s presentation provided an overview of the balanced score card perspective and how it helped the Department in going forward. The presentation also touched on the Department’s strategic objectives, and the key focus areas. The Chamber of Mines provided an oral presentation which highlighted a number of issues pertaining to mine safety, and what industry players ought to do reduce mining accidents. The Union’s presentation condemned and mourned the preventable deaths of workers in the mines. They stated that the accidents and fatalities occurred at the height of industry’s pursuit of targets in order to maximise profits.

Members asked the Department to comment on the issue of infrastructure and energy. Some members stated that they did not understand the saving of electricity, as lighting was needed in the city in order to assist in ensure the safety of the citizens. Members also sought clarity on the issue of mine fatalities, and stated that it was an issue of great concern. They felt that more needed to be done it terms of law enforcement, and if the Department experienced any problems in interpreting the law, then the Committee needed to be informed. Members asked commended the NUM for their efforts in fighting to protect the rights of members. They felt that problem with regard to the death of mineworkers was becoming worse, and that there needed to be drastic intervention into the matter. Members requested that a summit to be convened with all the stakeholders, and noted that the Committee needed to get involved in order to come up with legislation.

Balanced Score Card Perspective: Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) Briefing
The Department’s presentation was given by Adv Sandile Nogxina, Director General, DME. He noted that he would be providing an overview of the balanced score card perspective and how it helped the Department in going forward. The presentation also touched on the Department’s strategic objectives, and the key focus areas. He stated that as a public service organisation the Department had arranged the balance score card perspectives in four categories. These included customer satisfaction, improvement of internal processes, learning and growth, and financial performance. The Department was trying to improve capacity, ensure compliance to the mining and fuel sector Charters, focus on youth development programmes and ensure the security and quality of the energy supply. The Department’s strategic objectives included the improvement of internal processes and ensuring effective financial management.

Mr D Kekana (ANC) sought further clarity on the issue of infrastructure and energy.

Mr Nogxina responded that energy infrastructure was one of the most pressing issues that government was faced with, as there had been no new investment in generational capacity. Government was in the process of publishing an electricity master plan, which would outline the process of developing new capacity. Whilst the Department was addressing the supply side of electricity, it sought also to address the issues on the demand side. It would need to come up with a strategy to teach all consumers that energy was a scarce resource that should be used responsibly.

Ms A Dreyer (DA) asked the Department to comment on the level of unfilled vacancies and to give reasons why these posts were not filled.

Ms N Mathibela (ANC) sought clarity on the issue of disabled employees, and asked what the Department’s plan was to overcome the challenge.

Mr Nogxina responded that in considering the unfilled posts, it should be noted that the DME was a knowledge intensive Department. People needed to have certain qualifications, which were scarce, and which ranged from nuclear scientists to geologists. The challenge in filling such posts was a global one. The same issue applied to people with disability as they too were required to have rare skills. The Department was also faced with the challenge of trying to bringing in formerly disadvantaged people from disadvantaged areas. Offering of maths and science still remained a challenge in disadvantaged communities, and this situation needed to be seriously addressed. The Department was looking into various scholarship programmes which allowed for the training of chemical engineers, and other scarce skills.

Mr E Lucas (IFP) stated that the mining rights issues facing small scale miners were becoming a major problem. He asked the Department to comment on the process of getting prospecting rights and making them fully operational. The Department should also comment on the steps that had been taken to improve the bio fuel industry, and the steps taken to increase the percentage of women within the Department.

Mr Nogxina replied that the issue of small scale miners did still remain a major challenge as they were subsistence miners who did not have the sophisticated skills needed. Unfortunately the economy did not have sympathy for such miners, and the Department was trying to assist them in producing the required documents. The Department found it difficult to run with two sets of standards, one for small scale miners and one for ordinary businesses. It was decided to move to one set of standards which would apply to everyone, and the Department would then do all it could to assist in achieving certain standards.

Mr Nogxina said that in regard to increasing the percentage of women, the same argument applied as did to the scarce skills. There was also stiff competition amongst government departments, and many skilled Departmental staff would move to other Departments that offered higher salaries. The knowledge required by DME was more intense than that required by other Departments, and DME therefore offered a rigorous training process. It should, however, be noted that DME had exceeded the required percentage for women employees.

Mr Nogxina added that the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor no longer was residing with the DME but with the Department of Public Enterprises, therefore no answer could be provided.

Ms N Mathibela (ANC) asked for clarity regarding occupational health and safety, and whether there was there an improvement in mine safety

Mr Thabo Gazi, Chief Inspector of Mines, DME replied that in the past South Africa had recorded high number of mining disasters. However after the Mine Health and Safety Act was promulgated there had not been any major disasters, and it held mining companies responsible. There were still a high number of fatalities, and a lot of work needed to be done to reduce the number of disasters and accidents.

Mr Nogxina added that the change in trend of disasters did not mean that there was no problem. There was still a major problem that urgently needed to be addressed.

Mr C Kekana (ANC) stated that he could not conceptualise flying over South Africa and seeing dark cities because they was no electricity

Ms L Mabe (ANC) added that she did not understand the reasons behind the saving of electricity. Lighting was needed in the city in order to assist in ensure the safety of the citizens.

Mr E Lucas (IFP) stated that the electricity issue was a very thorny one, as it was the disadvantaged people who suffered the most due to lack of electricity. The Department also needed to find ways of making solar water heating mandatory in all buildings.

Mr Nogxina replied that the Department encouraged the responsible use of electricity. It was true that that reducing lighting was not the only way one could save electricity, and there were many other ways to save electricity. South Africa, however, was facing a possible crisis in energy supply, and could not afford the “luxury” of having all the benefits there would be under normal circumstances. There had to be a mass reduction on the unnecessary use of electricity.

Ms Mabe noted that the mine fatalities in the North West province were of great concern. The Department should provide clarity on who was to be held accountable for the casualties.

Mr Nogxina said that the common law and legislation would determine the responsibilities of mine managers in regard to fatalities. There were certain measures that could be taken against them, and where negligence was found then people would be charged. Managers had responsibilities to mine workers. The decisions on prosecution did not lie in the domain of the DME, but it had agreed to co-operate and work together with other relevant Departments.

Ms Mabe stated that there was a need to properly enforce the laws that were there. It was important to know by when the Department intended to take action, and a clear time frame must be provided, so that people could know that justice had been served.

Mr Gazi replied that the question of contractor management had always been a problem that was raised in a number of sectors. Contractors in the mining sector should be deemed as employees and not as independent contractors, and the Department was enforcing that type of understanding. The mining houses should be responsible for the training of their workers, so that they could identify the necessary risks.

Mr Nogxina added the Department had already begun with the process of co-ordination, which would place the Department in a good situation where that was warranted.

Ms Mabe replied that coordination was a good response but that the Department should provide clarity on when action would be taken

Mr Nogxina replied that the Department applied the law where necessary. There was however a limit to the Department’s enforcement processes. The law as it stood did not provide the Department with sufficient scope in relation to the kind of issues experienced in the North West.

Ms Dreyer stated that law enforcement was of utmost important, and if there were any problems in interpreting the law, then the Committee needed to be informed.

Mr Nogxina replied that the law stated that where people died owing to the negligent or intentional action or inaction of mine managers, then the manager could be prosecuted. The DME however did not have the mandate to actually institute the prosecution. He reiterated that the Department had met with the relevant prosecuting authorities and court officials who would deal directly with the cases in such situations.

Ms Mathibela stated that geologists could map, censor and predict when potential disaster was due to occur. She asked for clarity on what action had been taken in order to make sure that managers were trained and informed to look after their workers.

The Chairperson stated that the reports were work in progress and the issue of mine health and safety was utmost importance, and needed to be looked into in a much broader way.

National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) Briefing
Mr Peter Bailey, National Secretary: Health and Safety, NUM, stated that the Union had not only fought against poor working conditions for their members in the mines, but had vigorously raised matters pertaining to poor conditions of health and safety. The NUM had condemned and mourned the preventable deaths of workers in the mines, and noted that most accidents and fatalities occurred at the height of industry’s pursuit of targets to maximise profits. The conditions were preventable and there was relevant technology available which would prevent the deaths. The NUM was also concerned with the apparent lack of legal action instituted against the accountable officers at mining companies, who have been found to have neglected their duties. The Union and DME Inspectorate had participated in all accident inquiries and had supported the findings and recommendations of these inquiries.

South African Chamber of Mines Briefing
Dr Frans Barker, Senior Executive, Chamber of Mines, outlined a number of issues pertaining to mine safety. He stated that issues of seismology and rock bursts were identified by the NUM as the main cause of death in the mines, and that a panel of international experts needed to be brought in and assist in addressing the problems. The issue of enforcement also proved a challenge. The Chief Inspectorate had planned on developing an enforcement guideline. The Chamber of Mines fully supported the implementation of such a guideline, as this would assist the mines as to what needed to be done. Another issue was the outcome of research and here the Chamber had decided to make available two full time employees to assist with the implementation and adoption of best practices. The Executive Council was going to meet on a regular basis, in order to discuss safety and health issues. The NUM had also made a number of recommendations that were welcomed and noted by the Council. When it came to strike action by the NUM, the Chamber would welcome action that would lead to a change in behaviour of the mining houses.

Mr Lucas stated that both the presentations were very important. The mining industry was a bold industry that was both risky and profit driven, but a balance needed to be found between risk and profit. It should be noted that in first world countries there was a lot of mechanisation, whilst South African mines still operated for the most part on manual labour. Therefore the nationalisation of mines might not be a good idea, as it would make the mines profit driven, and would not address the problems. He asked for clarity to be provided on the role of the Council for Geoscience.

Ms Mathibela also sought clarity on the role of this Council, and stated that there was a 24-hour monitoring process over seismic events. She asked for confirmation whether the Council was sending through the seismic predictions to the mining companies.

Mr Bailey responded that seismic events could be detected, and it was not a situation where the industry was unaware of them, but a situation where they chose to ignore them. The problem lay in the industry not taking the lives of members seriously, as they might in some cases be warned in advance of movement but choose to ignore the warnings. The mining houses had a profit-driven mindset, instead of adopting a safety-driven mindset The NUM regularly interacted with the Council for Geoscience, which informed them about the seismic activities.

Mr Mashaba thanked the NUM for their efforts in protecting their members. He asked whether the relationship between the NUM and the mining houses was cordial. He commented that perhaps NUM should have made their presentation before the Department, as some of these issues could have been raised with the Department.

Ms B Tinto (ANC) sought clarity on what was being done to assist ex-miners, as some of them were very ill and were suffering. Clarity should also be provided on the looming strike, as it may affect the very staff it was trying to protect.

Mr Bailey replied that it should be noted that the NUM was not strike hungry, but NUM wanted to highlight and draw the issues of mine safety to the attention of members of the public. The mindset of the industry needed to be changed, as there were many workers who were exploited. There was an attempt by the NUM and the Chamber of Mines, to address their plight of ex mine workers. Legislation should be formulated in such a way that whenever there was negligence, the mining houses had to compensate.

Mr S Louw (ANC) commended the NUM for fighting to protect the rights of members. The problem with regard to the death of mineworkers was becoming worse. There needed to be a drastic investigation and intervention into the matter, and a summit should be held with all the stakeholders. The Committee also needed to come up with legislation that would heavily fine mining companies that fail to comply.

Mr Bailey replied that the NUM had been attending summits but the problem was that the industry players did not abide by the resolutions that had been made. If the NUM had to attend another summit, that summit should be of such a nature that it would force all the parties to abide by the decisions that had been made. With regard to legislation, the industry would pay experts millions of rands to assist in bypassing legislation. The industry should use the miners as experts, as they had the right to participation.

The Chairperson stated that a summit would probably be useful, and the Committee would become involved so that some kind of legislation could be drafted out of recommendations and decisions.

The meeting was adjourned.



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