The Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) says Mupane Gold Mine should be closed because it does not adhere to safety rules and regulations.
According to documents seen by this publication, the Minister of Minerals Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security, Lefoko Moagi, is in the middle of a war of words between the union and the mine and could find himself dragged to court by BMWU.
The union says it intends to bring an application against Minister Moagi and the Department of Mines in order to compel an inspection of Mupane Gold Mine and its subcontractor SVU Pty Ltd in terms of Section 6 of the Mines, Quarries, Works and Machinery Act (MQWM). BMWU also intends to make an application compelling Moagi to establish and appoint members to the Mines, Quarries and Works Safety Committee as provided for under Section 5 of the MQWM Act.
In addition, BMWU also intends to apply for a declaratory order that the Minister of Minerals Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security or his authorised officers have a legal duty to enforce the Mines, Quarries and Works Safety Committee as provided for under Section 5 of the MQWM Act. The union says its dispute with Mupane Gold Mine dates back to 22 June 2021, when BMWU met with SVU (Pty) Ltd to discuss workers’ terms and conditions of employment, including their safety and health concerns that the union had raised for allegedly violating the MQWM Act.
The union accused SVU Pty of failing to remedy safety lapses and cited Mupane Gold Mine, (the company’s principal and mining licence holder) as the financier for remedying the lapses. BMWU argued that it had notified Mupane Gold Mine Management of non-compliance with mining safety regulations on 11 August 2021 and the obligations which it has to employees.
According to the Executive Secretary of BWMU, Kitso Phiri, on 16 August 2021, the union filed an application with the Chief Government Mining Engineer in “terms of the MQWMA the effect of which sought to cause an inspection of the Mupane Gold Mine operations, including its sub-contracting company, which application was never responded to nor any action taken in respect thereof.”
According to Phiri, subsequent to the Chief Government Mining Engineer’s failure to exercise his powers under the Mines and Quarries Act, the union escalated the matter to the Director of the Department of Mines. “The Director has also been indifferent to the union’s request and (has) failed to take appropriate action,” he said. “Accordingly, Regulation 22 of the MQWM Regulations imposes an obligation upon anyone, including the union, to immediately notify anyone in authority to rectify a potential health and safety hazard in a mining operation upon becoming aware of its existence, which notification the union made to both the employer and Department of Mines, both of whom willfully and negligently failed to take further steps to remedy the danger.”
He accused the Department of Mines of failing to exercise its statutory power to enforce compliance with the Mines, Quarries, Works and Machinery Regulations against Mupane Gold Mine and SVU (Pty) Ltd, thus exposing workers in those operations to risk of injury and disease.
The union therefore “intends to make an application to compel the department to cause an inspection or inquiry into allegations of non-compliance with mining safety and health regulations at the mining site and cause a partial shutdown of the operations until non-compliance is cured”, Phiri noted. He informed both SVU and Mupane Gold Mine of their non-compliance with safety standards in a letter dated 24 July 2021 addressed to the CEO of SVU, Steve Venn.
He said on 22 June 2021, BMWU leadership met with SVU to discuss terms and conditions under which employees were working. “The following issues arose from prior observation and complaints: Employees working without PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment); no annual medical examination conducted in over three years to which management confirmed,” Phiri said. Also noted was unsafe underground transportation vehicles not fit for use underground; failure to water down dusty roads, excessive exposure to mine dust, refugee chamber always locked with employees not knowing how to use it, First Aid boxes/stations not installed under either Tau or Golden eagle sites, and failure by management to avail copies of the MQWMA Regulations for purposes of compliance and enforcement.
Phiri said the union notified SVU of these dangers in a letter dated 14 May 2021. “The company resolved to remedy the above situation within two weeks from the date of the meeting, with written confirmation, subject to an inspection of the remedies put in place,” he said. “SVU management has failed to do so. We further put it to Mupane Gold Mine management that they are vicariously liable for the omissions of the SVU.”
However, in a letter dated 29 July 2021 addressed to the union, Steven Venn, the CEO of SVU, said the matter of non-compliance by SVU had been rectified by issuing of PPEs in the form of overalls reinforced by partnering with Mupane Mines Store for convenience. With regard to annual medicals, Venn said SVU employees would be incorporated into the Mupane Mine schedule in order to speed up the process and a list of employees due for medical exams would be issued at regular intervals. Regarding unsafe underground transport, all vehicles with mechanical issues were sent for full reconditioning and upkeep. Venn said employees were trained on the use of refugee chamber during its commission and that a contained refresher would be incorporated into the waiting place.
Regarding the First Aid boxes, Venn said there were three first aid boxes at Tau Pit and two at Golden Eagle Pit all recently been filled. Regarding failure to avail copies of MQWMA Regulations, Venn said all legally appointed personnel had been furnished with copies of their legal appointments and supporting regulating documents and safety representatives nominated to work hand-in-hand with miners and a safety officer. In addition, trained First Aiders were in place throughout shifts.
But Phiri was not impressed and wrote back to Mupane Gold Mine a letter dated 11 August 2021. “Please note that according to SVU-Botswana letter, partial liability has been attributed to you for their acts or omissions as your sub-contracting partner under Regulation 6(1) for their non-compliance with Regulation 12 of the MQWMA,” he said. He added that the union had noted that the non-compliance was attributed to the mining licence holder (Mupane) under whose instructions the sub-contractor discharges their responsibilities.
“We however note your swift response in remediating these compliance lapses which SVU has indicated that have assumed responsibility for. We wish to categorically state we take the safety or our members seriously and we will not compromise their health or safety in your operations,” Phiri emphasised. “Advise us by way of confirmation on whether SVU employees have been integrated in mine-schedule for employee medical examinations and what your role will be in monitoring effective compliance with regulations. “We further require an undertaking from Mupane Management that once SVU has cured its non-compliance, a joint assessment team will be deployed comprising the union leadership, Mupane Management and SVU to assess the remediation of the areas forming the subject of the non-compliance.”
In a letter dated 16 August 2021 addressed to Chief Government Mining Engineer, Kenalemang Charles, Phiri said Mupane and SVU “have been negligent in that they have continued to make employees work in an unsafe environment in breach of the safety and health regulations. We hereby make an application to the Chief Government Mining Engineer to cause an inspection to be carried out at Mupane Gold Mine operations in respect of their violation of the Regulations aforementioned”, he said.
To the Director of mines, Selina Mogojwa, Phiri wrote on 7 September: “Following the failure to remedy the non-compliance by said companies, the union filed an application to the effect that inspection of the mining site be carried out as provided for in the mining regulations. To-date, no response has (issued) from the office of the Chief Government Mining Engineer despite several attempts from our office to be appraised on the status of our application.”