Friday 11 January 2013

Solidarity with the workers at Kusasalethu - an answer to Harmony Gold

To Graham Briggs, CEO, Harmony Gold

January 11 2013

A response to your claims about Kusasalethu 

Thank you for providing a detailed reply to my letter of protest about the actions of your company at Harmony’s Kusasalethu mine. However, having consulted further with mineworkers today, I have to contest many of the claims that you have made. 

Firstly, as you are well aware, the legality of the manner in which you have closed the mine is yet to be tested in a court of law. I understand that an application for an urgent interdict is currently being prepared by the workers’ representatives. South African labour law is very clear on the procedure to be followed in terms of a lock-out, and it is apparent from the reports I have received, as well as from general media coverage, that you have not complied with these. The manner in which an eviction has to be carried out is also carefully regulated in law. Ownership of the premises does not automatically give Harmony Gold the right to close off access to the workplace and workers’ accommodation. 

My sources on the ground in Carletonville have reliably informed me that about 3000 workers have been affected by the lock-out. The figure of 400 that you give appears to me a considerable under-estimate. 

You will know that workers have been camped out in the bush surrounding the pit and the hostels, in office buildings, and in the nearby Wedela settlement. While some workers have indeed, in desperation, taken up your offer of transport to their ‘primary homes’, the majority are not in a position to do so. For many, in fact, the mine accommodation is the ‘primary home’; they have nowhere else to go. 

These workers face a life-threatening situation as a result of the closure of the hostels, the hostel kitchens and the clinic. These measures, as you must surely realise, make a mockery of your claims of concern for employees’ safety and security. I understand that several workers have collapsed in the past few days and have had to be rushed to hospital in Randfontein, as a result of being weakened by hunger, dehydration and lack of access to medication. 

Your actions have other severe consequences for these workers, from whose labour you have of course made considerable profits. Many are enrolled in study programmes in nearby Carletonville; many depend on chronic medication from the mine clinic. 

Many also fear that making the long trip back ‘home’ would appear to accept and cement the mine’s closure. Workers are instead determined to fight what I maintain is a lock-out. 

If, as you claim, Harmony served notice of closure, then I would ask to be provided with proof. Unless you are able to do so, I can only rely on the reports that I have received from workers’ representatives in Kusasalethu. 

My understanding is that the agreement of December 21, when the latest sit-in protest was resolved, was to close a day early for the festive break; talks between yourselves and the workers’ representatives were to resume on January 4, 2013. My understanding is that no mention was made of any diversion from the normal opening date of January 3. 

Some workers’ representatives report that they did indeed receive text messages notifying them of the closure of the mine shaft on December 31 but no mention was made of closure of hostels or of the kitchen service for which the workers had already paid. With many workers still outside the country on December 31; and therefore obviously not in a position to receive this communication as their SA phone numbers were not operational, and others already on their way back to Carletonville, this communication, which in any case would not have constituted proper notice, was clearly not effective. In these circumstances, to offer workers a single option of travelling ‘home’ at their own expense, appears callous to say the least. 

Finally, I and other national representatives of trade unions in Britain, are of course well aware of the background to the current conflict at Kusasalethu. We would contend, however, that the climate of intimidation and violence is a consequence of the grinding poverty caused by the profiteering actions of your multi-billion mining industry. Rather than meet the justified demands of workers, you have further fuelled conflict by refusing to recognise the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and by frequently resorting to the services of Coin private security and the South African Police Services (SAPS) in an attempt to suppress, rather than resolve, the simmering conflicts at the mine. 

In short, I remain convinced that the harsh steps that Harmony Gold have taken against Kusasalethu workers are a provocative action being deliberately taken on behalf of the mining industry as a whole in an attempt to go on a retributive offensive against South Africa’s mineworkers. It is a mistaken action which is bound to backfire on your company.

Martin Powell-Davies, Member of the NUT National Executive for Inner London, U.K

 Dear Mr Briggs

For the immediate cessation of the unlawful lockout and eviction of Kusasalethu workers

I am writing as a National Executive member of the National Union of Teachers in London, the largest teaching union in Europe, to call on Harmony Gold to immediately cease its unlawful lock-out and eviction of Kusasalethu workers.

I am adding my voice to the international condemnation of your actions and call on you to re-open the mine and mine hostels and provide food and health care for the workers.

If the Company persists in attempting to impose cruel retribution on workers whose only crime is to stand up for decent wages, freedom of association and gathering, it will be another serious blow to the international standing of the South African  mining industry in general, and you and your company in particular.

The world is watching your actions, actions that are condemning workers to slowly starve and thirst to death. If you do not immediately cease this lock-out and eviction, then I pledge that I will do whatever I can to make sure that these disgraceful actions are brought widely to the attention of members of my Union

Martin Powell-Davies, January 10 2013

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