NEWS & ANALYSIS

Deliberately starving striking workers condemned – NUMSA

Union says two more workers collapsed in Lanxess mines, making the total 12

NUMSA condemns Lanxess management for deliberately starving striking workers

26 June 2019

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) can confirm that two more workers have collapsed today underground as a result of deliberately being denied food by Lanxess management.  This brings the total number of workers who have been hospitalized or treated to twelve since the strike began. Two hundred and ninety workers have been participating in a sit-in underground to protest against sexual harassment and the unfair dismissal of 56 workers at the mine since last week Wednesday. These are just some of the issues which our members have raised in their complaints against the brutal management of Lanxess.

Yesterday we sent a truck full of food to the mine for Lanxess management to distribute to our members, in line with an agreement we had secured through the Department of Mineral Resources over the weekend. The management of Lanxess refused to allow this food to be sent down to workers. This is not the first time they have done this. Over the weekend, food which we arranged for our members was thrown away by Lanxess security. We condemn the management of Lanxess mines for this cruel and inhumane treatment of workers!

We have noted a press statement, which has been sent out in the name of Ben Marais, dated 26 June 2019, titled “Lanxess steps in as NUMSA puts strikers’ health at risk”. In the statement the management of Lanxess Chrome mines claims that “the food supplied to strikers by NUMSA was only shared with selected workers. In addition, strikers prevented sick workers from getting medical care.” This is a bald faced lie. We have recorded footage, which we posted on our @numsa_media Twitter and Facebook account where we recorded the truck carrying food which we sent to the mine. The truck sat in the parking lot of the company for more than SIX HOURS, rotting in the sun, because the security guards had been instructed by management to deny workers food. Eventually the security told us they would not be sending down any food to mine workers. We also reject the lie that Lanxess provided food. They wanted to give our members Powerade, instead of food. This act was coupled with the arrival of ambulances and two buses, which made our members suspicious about the contents of the Powerade. They were concerned that the management had put something in the drinks, which is why the ambulances were on standby, and they rejected it. Again, we must ask the question, why did the management of Lanxess refuse to send down the food which we, as a trade union had provided for our members? It seems to us that Lanxess mines is systematically attempting to starve our members in an attempt to force them to give up the strike. It is therefore not surprising that workers are collapsing because the management of the company would rather see them dead, than for them to deal decisively with the issues that have forced them to embark on this drastic protest action.

We reject the claim that our members are preventing those who are sick from receiving treatment. If that were true, then why were two workers rushed to hospital because of hunger and dehydration? And at least 10 other workers have been treated by paramedics since the strike began. This is proof that our members are eager to ensure that those who are ill receive treatment as quickly as possible.

Last week Friday Lanxess management turned off the electricity supply to the mine, cutting of the water supply and ventilation to workers. It was only when we intervened, that they were forced to turn it back on again, hours later. Furthermore, yesterday, the management sent several heavily armed private security guards down to the mine shaft to intimidate striking workers to end the strike. The footage of this intimidation tactic has also been posted on our social media platforms.

All of these incidents paint a picture of a brutal management which does not care about workers. They allowed a female worker who was sexually harassed, to be victimized by senior management, and they failed to take proper steps to discipline the manager involved. They fired 56 workers for participating in a legally protected strike and for participating in a legal community protest, which is their right in terms of the constitution. It is this, as well as a litany of other issues which have forced our members to embark on this very drastic action. They are risking their lives to protest against the inhumanity of a cold, and ruthless, racist management team.

In the last two days, we have repeatedly attempted to get officials from the Department of Mineral Resources in Rustenburg to intervene on this issue on behalf of workers at the mine. Our pleas for assistance have fallen on deaf ears. Our members visited their offices in Rustenburg to request their urgent intervention. They responded by telling us that no one is available, as all their employees are involved in presentations. This is an unacceptable response to a brewing crisis. Workers lives are in danger, and the DMR is dragging its feet. We are calling on them once again to urgently assist us and to force the company to allow us to provide food to our members.

We would like a speedy resolution to this strike because we are worried about the safety of our members. The longer this dispute continues, the more dangerous the risk to their lives. We are also calling on Lanxess management once again to come to the negotiating table and to negotiate in good faith to resolve the issue of the workers who were unlawfully dismissed, as it is this issue which is keeping us from finalizing an agreement and ending the sit-in. Our members have made it clear that until this issue of dismissed workers has been dealt with, they will not end the strike. This is why we urgently need to secure an agreement so that this strike can end peacefully. 

In the meantime, NUMSA is calling on the South African Human Rights Commission to urgently investigate Lanxess mines in the North West for its cruel and inhumane treatment. We are also calling on our global partners in the trade union movement, IndustriAll, and IGBCE others to help us in exposing this global multinational company for its vicious and cold-blooded treatment of workers in South Africa.  We hope that they will assist us in exposing their ruthless practices to their German counterparts.

Aluta continua!

The struggle continues!

Issued by Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, NUMSA National Spokesperson, 26 June 2019