JOHANNESBURG/LIMA (Reuters) – As mining heavyweights South Africa and Peru move to lift coronavirus lockdowns, workers in deep mines are resisting going back to work without adequate protective gear and information about cases at sites, with one major union filing legal action against restart plans.
The workers fear being literal canaries in the coal mine in facilities where social distancing is nearly impossible and warn that companies are not divulging coronavirus cases, putting them at risk.
South Africa, the world’s largest producer of platinum, manganese and chrome ore, is letting its mines run at half-capacity after a national lockdown. Peru, which hopes to end its own lockdown on May 10, is the world’s No. 2 copper producer and No. 6 gold producer.
“Reopening the mines without proper regulation in place is a really bad idea for workers and for the communities that they come from,” said Richard Spoor, a lawyer for South Africa’s Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which represents more than 250,000 miners. “It’s a bad idea for mining, frankly.”
AMCU filed legal action last week to demand national safety standards for mines, including nationwide sanitization procedures and a minimum standard for protective gear, potentially raising costs for companies.