A debate around compulsory HIV testing of miners is set to shake the mining industry in the coming months, raising concerns around discrimination versus the protection of miners if their HIV status is known. By Khopotso Bodibe and Nawaal Deane.
The need for a policy around the compulsory HIV testing of mine workers arose from a case, which has been postponed in the Pretoria High Court until January.
Central to the case is the decision by the chief inspector of mines and the Ministry of Minerals and Energy about the classification of the death of Jose Mulungu Cossa, a miner who worked for the Rustenburg Platinum Mine.
Cossa died in hospital about a month after sustaining knee injuries in an accident in the mine’s Turfontein shaft in September 2000.
The chief inspector of Mines, Mavis Anne Hermanus, ruled that Cossa’s death was a fatality arising from his injuries at the mineshaft and not as result of his HIV-positive status.
The mining company challenged the ruling, which imposed a R60 000 levy, paid over three years, on the mining company.
The case was postponed until next January after the parties decided to attempt to develop a policy that would assist in situations where mineworkers infected with the HI virus met with accidents and subsequently died in the process of exercising their duty.
‘We believe that companies have got to be given the permission to know the status of their various employees when they appoint them,’ said Mike Mtakati spokesperson of Anglo-Platinum.
He said compulsory testing would benefit the employees because they could be placed in less hazardous jobs.
‘We could, through the various interventions prolong their lives. We don’t have to shy away from the workers who are infected with this disease, but we have a responsibility as a company to help prolong their lives. But we can only do that when, and if, we know their status with regard to HIV/Aids,’ he said.
But compulsory testing creates a problem if it is forced on the miners said Senzeni Zokwana, president of the National Union of Mineworkers.
‘Testing is good but we will not support a situation where testing is done against the will of our members.’ Zokwana said that if the mining companies implemented compulsory testing those who are HIV positive would be the first considered for retrenchments.
‘The issue of placement is not a new one ‘¦ The problem is the mining companies may find that up to 40% of their workforces are HIV positive, then who will go underground?’ he asked.
Debates will take place at the mining industry committee on whether the death of HIV-positive miners should be included mines’ statistics. These statistics are used to determine a mine’s safety risk, which in turn results in a specially calculated levy being imposed on the mine. Mining companies stand to benefit from HIV miners being excluded from the statistics as the greater the risk, the higher the levy imposed on them.
Mtakati is adamant that the issue of Cossa and the court ruling have nothing to do with the monetary factor.
‘It’s got absolutely nothing to do with the issue of the levy, but has everything to do with a principle,” he said.